Finally Got it!

I came from Panama City, Panama, where communication is very indirect and implicit.  As an instructor who lives in the United States and teaches students who use different ways to transmit a message, I thought it was crucial to learn the different ways in which we communicate.  I wanted to be able to understand my students better and make sure I was sending the right signals while teaching.  It is true that I had knowledge of these two contexts, but never understood them clearly enough until, I had to teach a class in the Dominican Republic, with 10 students from the US, about intercultural communication.  This was very important because I know that I can’t teach American students the same way I teach Hispanic or Asian students.  Understanding the mechanics of the low context communication vs. the high context communication have helped me understand the dynamics in my classroom and in my house.  Here you have the main differences:

Low Context Communication is the way my students communicate.

  1. Students are more explicit
  2. Students tend to be more verbal, and it does not mean they are disrespectful.
  3. Students feel the goal in communicating their thoughts is clarity.
  4. Students feel written communication is important.
  5. Students are skilled at asking questions to get more information.
  6. Students are skilled at processing a lot of verbal and written information.
  7. Students feel challenged to know how to read the environment.
  8. Students tell people what they need to know in order to understand them.

High Context Communication is the way I communicate in my culture.

  1. I pay more attention to the situation, environment, and the people with whom I communicate.
  2. For me understanding is derived from context.
  3. I pay attention to non-verbal cues as they are important to understand meaning.
  4. I know when to ask questions.
  5. I feel overloaded with so many communication cues.
  6. I used to feel like a child because people used to spell everything out to me.

After understanding the mechanism of these two ways of communicating, and knowing what my students wanted to have to get the message, I began to be more understanding, more patient, more explicit, and above all more cognizant of writing my instructions, and repeating more often to clarify an important point in my lesson.


2 thoughts on “Finally Got it!”

  1. Just this week I was thinking about how much more outspoken students are than they used to be when I started teaching 25 years ago. Nowadays, most students from the US don’t hesitate to tell you what they think. My mom, who does training for the US government at the national level, says that this is a big part of the identity of the current young generation. And though I believe her, I was wondering to myself why I often perceive this generation of students telling me what they think as their being disrespectful. And then today I read your post, and it emphasizes that they aren’t being disrespectful. They are simply low context communicators. They are explicit and direct–what I never allowed myself to be when I was their age.

    Thank you so much for sharing your insight with me. Types of communication are not only culturally dependent, they are also dependent on generation and age, too. This realization will help me be a better teacher and listener.


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