American anthropologist Edward T. Hall developed the concept of social cohesion, which is a determination of how people behave and think in different cultural settings. After living among indigenous and other cultures, Hall determined that people's cultures have a profound effect on their communication. While certain people are high-context, others are low-context. (Context pertains to the background, or surrounding circumstances.)
- High-context cultures
High-context cultures are often found in South America, Asia, Africa, and the Middle East. These people place emphasis upon interpersonal relationships and developing trust. For them, the creation of trust is the primary step to any transaction of business. Hall feels that these cultures emphasize group harmony and are governed less by reason than by intuition or feelings as they prefer the consensus of the group over individual achievement.
Further, people in these cultures are sometimes less governed by reason than by intuition or feelings. Words are not so important as their context, that is, the speaker’s tone of voice, facial expression, gestures, posture—and even the person’s family history and status. High-context communication tends to be indirect and more formal; elaborate apologies are typical.
- Low-context cultures
Low-context cultures can be found in North America and most of Western Europe. These people, according to Hall, tend to be logical, factual, and orientated toward action; they arrange facts in order to solve a problem, using logic rather than intuition for solutions. In contrast to high-context people, low context people insist upon precise words that are intended to be taken literally, demanding explicit contracts with which to negotiate. On the other hand, high-context people may even distrust contracts and even be offended by their suggestion of a lack of trust.
Hall concluded that these marked differences in peoples, which are deeply embedded in cultural upbringing; environments certainly affect such areas as communication and learning styles.