01- “High Context” vs. “Low Context”
A concept in cross-cultural comparison is “High Context” versus “Low Context.”
“High Context communication refers to information that exists in the actual context or inherent in a person, rarely symbolized, and seldom clearly conveyed. Low Context communication, on the other hand, expresses a large amount of information as explicitly as possible.”
– Edward Hall, “Beyond Culture”
Comparatively, English-speaking countries (such as the United States, Australia, Canada, the United Kingdom) tend towards low context; most African and Asian countries are high context. Japan, for instance, is an extreme high context country: when a Japanese girl says, “The moon is beautiful tonight,” she actually means, “I like you.”
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Chinese culture also leans towards high context. In imperial times, due to extreme inequality in status and power, many subjects had to devote considerable effort to deciphering the emperor’s intentions. Emperors, to control their ministers, often had to be deliberately obscure and unpredictable. Otherwise, they probably couldn’t maintain their rule.
Some subjects were naturally gifted at this, understanding much from just an emperor’s expression or tone. Consequently, a major skill of many high-level court officials became interpretation, rather than actual job or leadership skills.
Such courts inevitably declined. While they could bully the populace internally, they were exposed in the face of external threats.
If a company, in its formative years, fails to establish a “low context culture,” as it grows, its middle and upper management will inevitably devote substantial effort to this kind of “interpretation” rather than focusing on creating value for customers and winning in competition.
Such companies also rapidly decline.
02- “Error Correction Coding”
No matter how low context, or how clear the spoken words, humans cannot communicate with the binary precision of machines. Humans are emotional, prone to lapses, and can be inconsistent.
However, I learned something this year: even machine-to-machine communication is challenging!
Ensuring accurate, efficient, and emotionless communication between machines isn’t easy! This leads to my second concept: “Error Correction Coding.”
“Error correction coding is a technique used in data transmission or storage to detect and correct errors. It involves adding redundant information to the original data, enabling the receiving end to detect and correct errors received.”
In transmitting or storing data, various errors can occur, like bit flipping, insertion, or deletion. The goal of error correction coding is to add redundant information to improve data reliability, allowing error detection and correction even under limited error conditions.
Simple error correction coding involves agreeing on explicit rules beforehand and inserting such explicit information (redundant information) into the message. If the receiver notices a mistake in these explicit elements, they can use appropriate rules to correct and complete the message.
This capability for error correction and completion is critical for executives. Executive teams deal with complex issues, and errors in encoding and sending are almost inevitable. Therefore, “error correction ability” becomes crucial.
Huddles can significantly contribute to building a low context culture within organizations. By promoting clarity and efficiency in communication, Huddles provides tools that align with the notion of low context communication. Its features like AI-driven meeting summaries and proactive assistance ensure that the essence of discussions is captured and conveyed straightforwardly, leaving little room for misinterpretation or the need for ‘reading between the lines.’ This technology can be a game-changer in reducing the burden of high-context communication, especially for new executives trying to navigate and integrate into the company culture. Huddles’ emphasis on clear, concise, and efficient communication mirrors the principles of low context culture, making it an ideal tool for modern organizations striving to improve their communication dynamics.
Why do some executives understand the top leader more accurately and comprehensively, while others consistently filter out the “exciting” and “important” parts of the leader’s views?
The coding sent by the top leader is the same, right?
A key factor is the varying “error correction abilities” of different executives (commonly referred to as unspoken comprehension skills).
Of course, the clarity, consistency, and evolution of the top leader’s decision-making principles are also critical. These principles form the “redundant information” that executives can use for error correction and completion. Without strength in these areas, efficient “error correction” by executives is difficult.
The top leader needs a more advanced “error correction coding ability,” like “Fountain Code”: sending seemingly different but essentially consistent redundant verification information according to different situations, rather than traditional fixed redundant verification information.
“Fountain” is a fitting metaphor: the top leader must constantly emit information. Important matters require repetition, and although the language may vary each time, the essence remains consistent.
03- “Low Context” or “High Error Correction”?
So, what should an executive team focus on to improve communication efficiency: establishing a “low context” or enhancing “error correction ability”?
Both aspects are crucial.
However, “error correction ability” largely depends on individual talent and is not easily nurtured. This can be left to personal effort.
As for companies, regardless of individual executives’ error correction abilities, they should advocate and establish “low context” early on: what you say should reflect your intended meaning, without hidden implications. “The moon is beautiful tonight” should mean just that, not “I like you.”
Otherwise, even the most gifted communicators cannot handle such complex, inconsistent, and incoherent coding.
The good news is, even in a high context environment, a company can still establish a “low context culture.” This can be achieved through promoting “simple, direct, professional communication,” teaching employees how to express themselves in this manner,
and even advocating specific sentence structures, unified vocabulary/definitions/standards, introducing a common thinking framework, establishing shared talent standards, and common principles. These actions effectively establish a low context culture, greatly enhancing executive team communication efficiency.
Of course, establishing a low context culture affects not only executive team communication efficiency but also has many other impacts. For instance, the survival of new executives: in a high context team atmosphere, “veterans” who have followed the boss for years have a significant advantage, making it much harder for new executives to integrate, especially in the initial 6-18 months.