Words Are All We Have

By Jan Vincent Meertens


In many cultures, people use high-context communication for two key reasons. One reason is their sensitivity to social hierarchy, also described as the power-distance dimension in the Hofstede model for intercultural management. Another key reason for a high-context communication style is the social interdependency that a community has developed, also known as the individualism/collectivism dimension of the Hofstede model.

The Dutch are very individualistic and therefore have little need for a rich social language. To low-context speakers, content is more important than form. High-context speakers are more receiver-focused and sensitive to giving face and building in flexibility to avoid a loss of face. ‘Yes’ may not mean agreement; rather, it often means ‘I hear you’. ‘No’ is generally not said, but merely implied. Instead, you may hear: ‘I will have to wait,’ Inshallah’, ‘Si Dios quiere’, ‘God willing’, or – in the case I just described – ‘no problem’.

These different communication patterns test our emotions.



Jan Vincent Meertens
2019 Autumn

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