What Is a Low-Context Culture?

A low-context culture is described as open, rule-oriented, individualized, detail-oriented in communication, problem-oriented, proactive and productive. The United States is an example of a primarily low-context culture, though it is important to point out that virtually no nation’s culture is exclusively high or low-context. The term low-culture is more aptly applied to a specific environment such as work or school. Even in such environments, it is possible for low-context cultures to exist within high-context cultures and vice versa.

Informality is a mark of low-context cultures. This is because low-context cultures are generally short-term encounters of people who are open to outsiders. High-context cultures, in contrast, are typically very tight-knit communities of people who have known each other for a very long time. Newcomers to high-context cultures may be viewed as suspicious.

Language is another key determinant of low-context culture. Low-context cultures use very distinct and detailed modes of communication. This is because the people within the very individualized low-context culture may not be as familiar with each others’ idiosyncrasies as people of high-context cultures, which tend to be more group-oriented in nature. Again, this is in relation to the level of familiarity that people within the respective cultures have with each other.