In response to this original writing prompt.
I did some research on low context/’I think’ versus high context/’I feel’ speakers, and I learned something very interesting.
They are representative of different cultures.
Low context— ‘I Think’—people
Low context people tend to be from varied cultures. Large cities, moving a lot, smaller family units, multiple nationalities and languages represented.
High context— ‘I Feel’—people
High context people tend to be from more homogeneous cultures. Smaller towns, growing up in one place, larger close-knit family units, and one-language type cultures.
Which I find fascinating.
While I did not spend a lot of my time in Large cities growing up, my life was very multicultural:
- Small family unit: I was the only child of two only children.
- University towns (my father is a professor): Many different cultures and languages.
- Multiple nationalities: Not only did my grandparents host exchange students, we hosted traveling professors and had many exchange students over (Dad’s grad student from China convinced me to try chopsticks at the age of 6).
- Multiple languages: I learned four languages when I was younger (I can barely speak them now, but I could pick them back up quickly, I believe).
- I grew up around gays, poly, cross-dressers, trans, theater people, and philosophers, LOL!
I am primarily low-context/’I think’. I learned that not everybody thinks and feels the same way I do early on, and realized the assumptions made in high-context/’I feel’ speaking and listening do not translate well to other cultures.
And that’s exactly it.
The challenge is translation.
A high context speaking from an Italian family with a deep-rooted culture of dramatism and joviality will confuse the heck out of a high-context speaker from an Asian country where reserve and respect are the primary signs of love and affection.
Because they might be saying the same words but the assumptions are different.
So, I tend towards low context.
Does that mean I think high-context/’I feel’ is a bad thing?
Not at all.
I think it is incredibly valuable for bonding groups.
Here are a few examples of bonding in high context:
- Pet names
- Shared “looks”
- Training signals
- Private or “in” jokes
- Ways to say “I love you” that aren’t “I love you.”
- Shorthand speech, where all you have to say is that ONE word, and your partner or group knows exactly what you are referring to.
All of these things are very present in my life. I cherish every bit of them.
I do not expect to say “locust,” and have all of you bust out laughing. I do know a small handful of people that will, though, and they know exactly why.
I would not include that joke in trying to make a point, because the majority of people who read what I have to say would have no clue, and I would not be communicating.
So, what is my answer?
Low context/’I think’ is for writing on the internet, communicating with strangers and acquaintances, business transactions.
As I get to know a person better, I learn their language and they learn mine. We grow higher context together, translating when we get confused, popping down into low context when we need to clarify, then back up once we’re on the same page.
Or, we slip in and out, using low-context/’I think’ when speaking in deeply complex or emotional topics, and high context in lovvey-wuvvey stuff.
It’s not perfect.
This does not always work with high-context-all-of-the-time people. And I do my best to work with them, asking what they mean if I am not understanding, and stating exactly what I mean.
I am still not always able to communicate my actual thoughts and feelings clearly, because in many people’s world, it is not possible for a person to say directly what they mean.
And I’ll admit, that bothers me.
And I work on it.
I keep an open mind. I say, “Your feelings are valid, and you obviously have a reason for feeling that way. I’m sorry I upset you. Let’s talk about this, because when I said XYZ, I really meant exactly that, not LMNOP. We can figure this out together, and I’m happy to keep working on it.”
And I do.
And sometimes, we manage to translate each other well enough to laugh later over our misunderstandings.
And that’s good enough for me.