Friday, October 9, 2009

Cultural Context Orientation - Part 1

Culture is extremely important to take into account when conducting business internationally.  Culture is defined as "an integrated system of learned behavioral patterns that are characteristic of the members of any given society.  Culture is inherently conservative, resisting change and fostering continuity.  The process of aculturation - adjusting and adapting to a specific culture other than one's own - is one of the keys to success in international business operations.

One of the distinguishing characteristics of culture is context orientation.  In high context cultures, the context of a communication is at least as important as what is actually being said.  In low context cultures, most information is contained explicitly in the words.  Unless one is aware of the difference, actions could easily be misunderstood.

For example, consider the exchange of business cards.  In China or Japan, high context cultures, the card is presented carefully with both hands.  Foreigners are expected to study the card when it is handed to them and place it on the table before them.  The behavior of an American executive who proffers a travel-worn card or, worse still, makes notes on the card he or she is given, is considered offensive, even insulting.

The following graph ranks major cultures according to their contextual orientation:


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