How Low and High Context Cultures Respond to Crisis

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The recent crisis that has roiled the world has put on display what makes the societies of the world different. How a government responds to a crisis such as the coronavirus says a lot about the country, it’s priorities, and it will stay in the public consciousness for some time to come. 

So called low-context cultures and high-context cultures have both responded in different ways, and there is a clear winner for which style of culture is best suited to handle a pandemic. Though exceptions exist in both cases, intercultural communication patterns can tell us a lot about a culture’s priorities and response. 

High-context cultures, or those that value collectivism, are more group-minded and are less reliant on verbal communication; countries like South Korea and China, responded swiftly to the virus. Countries like these instituted strict guidelines for movement of their citizens and abundant testing. In the case of China, many would argue that the methods went too far, but it resulted in a relatively swift control of the virus. 

One high-context culture, Italy’s, didn’t fare as well as China or Korea. The country may have underestimated the virus and not implemented physical distancing soon enough, which led to a higher death rate. But by-and-large, Italians have been adhering to governmental regulations. 

In low-context cultures, those cultures which are much more individual-driven, of which the US is one, you see situations arise like the recent protests against further government intervention in the crisis. Germany, by contrast, a very low-context culture, has navigated the pandemic admirably.  

Though no culture is entirely low or high context, the communication habits of each have informed the response. There are many nuances that play into how a community or country responds to a situation like Covid-19, and though not a perfect predictor of success against the virus, understanding high and low context cultures can still tell us a lot about the priorities and actions in responding to a new threat.