Be a Better Leader – Communicating Across Cultures

by Feb 14, 2017

Culture differences impact how effective we are as leaders. In our emerging global society, we need to understand how we lead affects those from other cultures and backgrounds. Today’s event planners have global attendees participating at meetings or will plan events in global destinations. The more global our planning is, the more important it is to understand the differences across cultures, and how to communicate in a way to shows understanding and respect for ones culture.

How as planners, can we keep it all together ensure that we are communicating effectively to the different countries that we are working with? Well, according to Erin Meyer, author of The Culture Map, it can be very simple. Communication across cultures comes to two different scenarios, low context and high context. All countries typically fall on a context . Knowing these key differences can help you keep in mind their cultural needs as you are planning your meetings and events.

Low Context

In her book, The Culture Map, Erin Meyers explains that low context communication is “precise, simple, and clear”. Messages are straight-forward and understood at face-value. Also, with low context communication, repetition is appreciated if it helps clarify what is being communicated. How do the countries line up that have low context cultures? US is the lowest context culture in the world, followed by Australia, Canada, Netherlands, and Germany.


Here are some tips for communicating in a low context environment:

  • Be transparent, clear and specific as possible
  • Explain exactly what you are calling
  • Assert your opinions transparently
  • Recap points again at the end of a phone call
  • Don’t be so polite that it gives the sense of vagueness and uncertainty

Noteworthy: If you are from a low context culture you may think that those in the high text culture are secretive or lacking transparency. You might also think that they aren’t able to communicate effectively. Consider their background and culture also that you can be aware and elevate your communication to a context that would be more comfortable for both of you.

High Context

While low context communication is “simple, precise, and clear”, high context communication is sophisticated, nuanced, and layered. In high context communication, messages are both spoken and read between the lines. Additionally, messages are often “implied but but not plainly expressed. What is the country line-up for high context cultures? Japan is the highest context culture in the world, followed by Korea, Indonesia, China, and Kenya.


Here are some tips to use when communicating with someone with a high context culture:

  • Listen for what is meant, versus what is being said
  • Don’t form opinions to quickly
  • Speak less, listen more

Noteworthy: Some high context communicators  might perceive low context communicators as to inappropriately state the obvious. High context communicators might also view low context communicators as patronizing or condescending.

We need to consider how we communicate especially when interacting with those from other cultures than our own. The more we are aware of these aspects will help us adjust communication and show those cultures around us that we are truly wanting to create an environment of understanding and respect. Does your business interact with other cultures? What are some of the high and low context nuances that you run into? I would love to hear some of them!


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