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Low-Context Culture: Definition & Overview

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Instructor: Yolanda Williams

Yolanda has taught college Psychology and Ethics, and has a doctorate of philosophy in counselor education and supervision.

Low-context culture is a term used by anthropologist Edward T. Hall in 1976 to describe a communication style that relies heavily on explicit and direct language. Learn more about low-context cultures from examples and test your knowledge with a quiz.

Definition of Low-Context Culture

Anthropologist Edward T. Hall was the first to discuss and define a low-context culture. In his 1976 book titled Beyond Culture, Hall described a low-context culture as a culture that communicates information in a direct manner that relies mainly on words. Low-context cultures do not rely on contextual elements (i.e., the speaker's tone of voice or body language) to communicate information. They take a more direct and explicit approach. This is in contrast to a high-context culture, which relies heavily on implicit messages and contextual cues (i.e., the situation and the speaker's tone of voice) to relay information being communicated.

Members of low-context cultures have many relationships that last for a short amount of time or exist for a specific reason. Following procedures and keeping sight of the goal are important in accomplishing any transaction. The cultural rules and norms need to be spelled out so that people who are not familiar with the culture know what the expectations are. Communication is expected to be straightforward and precise, and the use of words must effectively convey the entire message.

Individualism in Low-Context Cultures

Low-context cultures are individualistic. This means that individual achievements are valued higher than group accomplishments. Members of low-context cultures are independent of one another and are expected to look out for themselves, with the exception of family. Privacy and having personal space is also valued.

Characteristics of Low-Context Cultures

Some common characteristics of low-context cultures include:

  • Emphasis on logic and facts
  • Facts are more important than intuition in the decision-making process
  • Words are more important than body language
  • Verbal messages are explicit, direct, and concise
  • Tasks or goals are more important than relationships
  • Most knowledge is above the waterline. This means knowledge is explicit, visible, and can be easily conveyed to others
  • Primary method of learning is by following other people's explicit directions and explanations
  • Decisions and actions focus on the goal and dividing responsibilities

Examples of low-context cultures include:

  • The United States of America
  • Canada
  • Germany
  • Switzerland

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