BestHandshake

Recognizing High and Low Context Cultures

BestHandshakeDid you know that showing the soles of your shoes is taboo in some cultures? Did you realize that simple slip ups such as this can cost you a deal? As an international REALTOR® you deal with a wide array of people. These people come from different countries that are either considered to have a high or low context culture. Recognizing the differences between the two and knowing when to keep your feet on the ground (quite literally) will help you reach for the stars and seal the deal.

So what are high and low context cultures? While no culture is exactly the same, there are similarities among high and low context cultures. For instance, you might find similarities between clients from Asia and the Middle East, because they both are considered high context cultures. High context cultures tend to put more value and emphasis on building trust and personal relationships. These relationships are mostly built upon face-to-face interaction and things that are left unsaid such as cultural norms, body language and how things are said or presented. On the other end, low context cultures tend to put more emphasis and importance on the task at hand. The more straightforward, concise and efficient the better. When dealing with clients from Germany and the United States, for example, you will see a lot of similarities shared between low context cultures.

How can cultural faux pas impact a deal? In short, knowing how to recognize and navigate through low and high context cultures can greatly effect the outcome of a deal. When dealing with a client from a high context culture you might find that things move slower. Trust must be built before anything. Clients from high context cultures are often offended when you rush into the inner working of a deal, or request sensitive information (such as proof of finances or where their money is currently housed) and this might cause them to go elsewhere with their business. So take your time and let the client get comfortable with you. Wait for them to bring up the issues such as financing, budgets, the location of their money, etc. Do your research and learn their cultural norms. Is it okay to shake their hand? How do you hand them a business card?  Believe it or not, these are things that can make or break a deal.

Low context cultures fall on the other end of the spectrum. Decisions are made based off facts rather than intuition with low context cultures. Words are taken literally and contracts are usually longer and more detailed. People from low context cultures follow the rules, standards and details of a contract strictly. This relationship tends to focus more on what is said rather than how it is said.

When business collides between low and high context cultures it is easily for both parties to become offended, which can make the sweetest deal go stale. This is why it is important, no matter what culture you are from, to understand the differences between high and low context cultures and navigate them with care.

Examples of High and Low Context Cultures

High-Context
Japan, China, Egypt, Saudi, Arabia, Italy, Spain

Low-Context
United States, United Kingdom, Canada, Germany, Denmark, Norway

Charlee Gibson

Charlee Gibson is a Marketing Coordinator for the National Association of REALTORS® Commercial & Global Services division. She can be reached at cgibson@realtors.org.

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