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LowcontextcultureisatermusedbyanthropologistEdwardT.

Hallin
1976todescribeacommunicationstylethatreliesheavilyonexplicitand
directlanguage.Learnmoreaboutlowcontextculturesfromexamplesand
testyourknowledgewithaquiz.

DefinitionofLowContextCulture

AnthropologistEdwardT.Hallwasthefirsttodiscussanddefinealow
contextculture.Inhis1976booktitledBeyondCulture,Halldescribeda
lowcontextcultureasaculturethatcommunicatesinformationinadirect
mannerthatreliesmainlyonwords.Lowcontextculturesdonotrelyon
contextualelements(i.e.,thespeaker'stoneofvoiceorbodylanguage)to
communicateinformation.Theytakeamoredirectandexplicitapproach.
Thisisincontrasttoahighcontextculture,whichreliesheavilyonimplicit
messagesandcontextualcues(i.e.,thesituationandthespeaker'stoneof
voice)torelayinformationbeingcommunicated.
Membersoflowcontextcultureshavemanyrelationshipsthatlastfora
shortamountoftimeorexistforaspecificreason.Followingproceduresand
keepingsightofthegoalareimportantinaccomplishinganytransaction.
Theculturalrulesandnormsneedtobespelledoutsothatpeoplewhoare
notfamiliarwiththecultureknowwhattheexpectationsare.
Communicationisexpectedtobestraightforwardandprecise,andtheuseof
wordsmusteffectivelyconveytheentiremessage.

IndividualisminLowContextCultures

Lowcontextculturesareindividualistic.Thismeansthatindividual
achievementsarevaluedhigherthangroupaccomplishments.Membersof
lowcontextculturesareindependentofoneanotherandareexpectedtolook
outforthemselves,withtheexceptionoffamily.Privacyandhaving
personalspaceisalsovalued.

CharacteristicsofLowContextCultures

Somecommoncharacteristicsoflowcontextculturesinclude:
Emphasisonlogicandfacts
Factsaremoreimportantthanintuitioninthedecisionmakingprocess
Wordsaremoreimportantthanbodylanguage
Verbalmessagesareexplicit,direct,andconcise
Tasksorgoalsaremoreimportantthanrelationships
Mostknowledgeisabovethewaterline.Thismeansknowledgeisexplicit,
visible,andcanbeeasilyconveyedtoothers

Primarymethodoflearningisbyfollowingotherpeople'sexplicitdirections
andexplanations
Decisionsandactionsfocusonthegoalanddividingresponsibilities
Examplesoflowcontextculturesinclude:
TheUnitedStatesofAmerica
Canada
Germany
Switzerland
HighcontextcultureisaphrasethatwascreatedbyanthropologistEdward
T.Hallinthe1970stodescribeaculture'sstyleofcommunication.Learn
moreabouthighcontextculturesfromexamplesandtestyourknowledge
withaquiz.

DefiningHighContextCulture

AnthropologistEdwardT.Hallfirstdiscussedhighcontextcultureinhis
1976booktitledBeyondCulture.Highcontextculturesarethoseinwhich
therulesofcommunicationareprimarilytransmittedthroughtheuseof
contextualelements(i.e.,bodylanguage,aperson'sstatus,andtoneofvoice)
andarenotexplicitlystated.Thisisindirectcontrasttolowcontext
cultures,inwhichinformationiscommunicatedprimarilythroughlanguage
andrulesareexplicitlyspelledout.
Itisimportanttonotethatnocultureiscompletelyhighcontextorlow
context,sinceallsocietiescontainatleastsomepartsthatarebothhighand
low.Forexample,whiletheUnitedStatesisalowcontextculture,family
gatherings(whicharecommoninAmericanculture)tendtobehighcontext.
Membersofhighcontextculturesusuallyhavecloserelationshipsthatlast
foranextendedperiodoftime.Asaresultoftheseyearsofinteractingwith
oneanother,themembersknowwhattherulesare,howtothink,andhowto
behave,sotherulesdonothavetobeexplicitlystated.Thismakeshigh
contextculturesdifficulttonavigateforthosewhodonotunderstandthe
culture'sunwrittenrules.

CharacteristicsofHighContextCultures

Somecommoncharacteristicsofhighcontextculturesinclude:
Primarilyusenonverbalmethodstorelaymeaningfulinformationin
conversations,suchasfacialexpressions,eyemovement,andtoneofvoice.
Thesituation,people,andnonverbalelementsaremoreimportantthanthe
actualwordsthatarecommunicated.

Peoplearecomfortablestandingclosetoeachother.
Thepreferredwayofsolvingproblemsandlearningisingroups.
Membersofthecultureplaceemphasisoninterpersonalrelationships.
Trustmustbedevelopedbeforebusinesstransactionscanbegin.
Highcontextculturesinclude:
JapanandothercountrieslocatedinAsia
BrazilandothercountrieslocatedinSouthAmerica
AfricantribalgroupsandmostcountrieslocatedinAfrica
AmajorityoftheMiddleEast,includingIraqandIran
ThoughtheUnitedStateshasalowcontextculture,wehaveallbeenplaced
insituationsthatareconsideredhighcontext.Forexample,ifyouhaveever
beentoafamilygathering,thenyouhaveexperiencewithahighcontext
culture.Wehaveclose,personalrelationshipswithourrelatives.Weknow
thatthewayinwhichwesaythingsatthesegatheringsismoreimportant
thanwhatwesay.Wealsomakestrongdistinctionsbetweenthosewhoarea
partofourfamilyandthosewhoarenot.

Haveyoueverencounteredsituationswhereclearsignageiseverywhere,
directionsaredetailed,expectationsarespelledoutexplicitly,andyouhavea
senseofconfidencethatyouwillbeabletofindyourwayaroundwithoutmuch
difficulty?Youareundoubtedlyinaplacewithalowcontext.Littleislefttoyour
assumption,everythingisspelledout.Incontrast,youareavisitorinadifferent
situationwhereitseemsthattherearenosigns,youarelefttoyourowninstincts,
andmuchtimeisspentaskingothersfordirections.Everyoneelsebutyouknows
what'sgoingon.Youhavefoundyourselfinaplacewithhighcontext.Everyone
elseisfamiliarwiththesurroundingsbecauseoftheirlonghistorytogether.
Whenworkingcrossculturally,itisyourinherentdutytodeterminewhetherthe
groupishighorlowcontext.Churchisaperfectexampleofhighcontext.People
routinelystand,bow,andrecitecreedsthatappearforeignandconfusingto
visitors.Youwouldthinkthatthisshouldnotbethecase.Oneofthereasonswhy
theretentionrateinchurchesissolow,aswellasthepercentageofreturnvisitors
sodismal,couldbeattributedtothistension.Avisitoriscomingintoahigh
contextenvironmentwhereeveryoneknowstherules,andnoconsiderationis
giventothepersonwhoisnotacquaintedwiththenormsandpractices.
Thenuclearfamilyisanotherexampleofhighcontext.Afteryearsofbeing
togetherweknowwhattheunspokenrulesare,ofwhattoeat,howtocelebrate
holidaysandhowtocommunicatewitheachother.Astrangertothehomewill

havedifficultymaneuveringaroundinsuchanenvironmentunlesssensitivityis
practicedandcommunicationstrategiesareintentional.
Inhighcontextsocietiesthereislessverballyexplicitcommunicationandless
formalinformation.Multiplenetworktiesandintersectionswithotherscreate
moreinternalizeunderstandingsofwhatiscommunicated.Theserelationshipsare
longtermandtherearestrongboundariesconcerningwhoisaccepted,as
belongingvswhoisconsideredanoutsider.
Lowcontextsocietiesareruleorientedandmoreknowledgeispublic,external
andaccessible.Thereisaseparationoftime,ofspace,ofactivitiesandof
relationships.Moreinterpersonalconnectionsexistbutofshorterduration.
Knowledgeismoretransferableinlowcontextsocieties.Decisionsandactivities
focusaroundonwhatneedstobedoneandthereisadivisionofresponsibilities.
Discerningwhetherapeoplegroupishighorlowcontextiscriticalbecauseour
communicationstrategywillbebasedonsuchknowledge.
PersonsfromLatinAmerica,Korea,theMiddleEasttendtooperateinhigh
contextmodality.Commoninformationabouttherulesofengagementismuch
morelikelytobeassumedandembeddedwhentheyaretogether.
Herearesomesuggestionsforcrossculturalengagementinhighandlowsociety
Forindividualsfromlowcontextculturesbewareofridiculingaplaceorapeople
whodontbothertolabeltheirroadsorprovideexplicitinstructions.
Forindividualsfromhighcontextbesensitivewhenhostinglowcontext
individualsbyprovidingmoreexplicitinstructionsthanwhatwouldbeordinarily
neededwithacolleaguefromyourculture.
Thenfindawaytogettheunderstandingandcommunicationneeded.Developa
strategyforfinding

LowContext:Thisisaculturewhereissuesarefullydetailedandspelled
outincommunication.Messagesaremuchmorespecific,andthereisagreat
dealoffocusandimportanceputonwhatissaid.Examplesoflowcontext
culturesareAustralia,Germany,England,theU.S.andSwitzerland.
HighContext:Thisisaculturethatmakesalotofassumptionsaboutthe
commonalityofcommunications,viewsandknowledge.Inthisculture,
thereismoreofaquietunderstandingofwhatisgoingonandlessissaid
aboutit,asintheendweshouldbejust'understood'.Examplesofhigh
contextculturesareBrazil,China,France,GreeceandJapan.