Low Context Westerners Vs. High Context Chinese

Some Chinese have complained about difficulties communicating with foreigners and that their recommendations and suggestions are often ignored by foreigners. This seems to have something to do with the different communication patterns used by Chinese and Westerners. While the Chinese often use high context patterns, Westerners are more inclined to use low context patterns. A typical Chinese way of making a suggestion is through less formal conversations. One suggestion might be "I think it is going to be better if we do it this way,". Often the Chinese are unwilling to share the rest of information which they may or may not have. Some reasons may be because the information or tip came from personal connections, or Guanxi, which the Chinese person has. Another reason may be that they don't want to cause anyone to lose face.

A Westerner may want to explore further by asking the Chinese person to provide supporting evidence, but the Chinese may be embarrassed and annoyed by such questioning because it could be interpreted as distrust. "It is frustrating when we see opportunities and make suggestions to our American managers and they decide to ignore them so that the opportunity is lost," a Chinese manager in a Sino-US joint venture in Beijing said. Some ethnic Chinese in Canada made similar complaints about the distrust they perceived from Canadian companies "We thought it was a wonderful idea, but the Canadian company was very suspicious of what we said". The Canadian manager later revealed that "the evidence (they) produced did not seem to be convincing enough.".

From the point of view of a low-context person, such as a Westerner, the recommendation made by a high context person, such as a Chinese person, may not register as a recommendation. It might be barely a comment because it is not backed up by supporting evidence. Therefore, to communicate effectively with a high context person, the foreigner has to encourage the high-context person to elaborate his/her idea further and to provide the reasons behind the thinking. To communicate effectively with a low context person, a high context person has to be prepared to answer questions and inquiries. Better yet, a high context person needs to be more explicit about the process as well as the conclusion and result. One Chinese manager learned that essentially, this is the only way to deal with low context North American managers: "the only way to deal with this frustration is to collect more information and try to convince the foreign manager again". In addition, guanxi and relationships with Chinese help to erase psychological distance the Chinese have with foreigners and help the Chinese become more straight forward with foreigners.