High Context and Low Context Cultures

High-context cultures include France, Spain, Italy, the Middle East, China, Japan, and Russia. For representatives of high-context cultures a lot of information is transmitted by non-language context – hierarchy, status, a person’s appearance, manners of his behavior, living conditions. The cultures of Germany, Switzerland, USA, Scandinavian and other Northern European countries can be referred to the type low-context. In these countries, the linguistic tools are enough to express the necessary information. The differences between the two types of the cultures define the peculiarities of people’s interaction on the diplomatic or personal levels.

A comparison of the two types of cultures shows that each of them has specific features. Thus, highly contextual cultures are distinguished by:

  • an unspoken, hidden manner of speech;
  • multiple meaningful and numerous pauses;
  • the serious role of nonverbal communication and ability to “speak with one’s eyes”;
  • excessive redundancy of information, because initial background knowledge is sufficient for communication;
  • absence of open expression of discontent under any conditions and results of communication.

Low-contextual cultures are characterized by the following features:

  • direct and expressive manner of speech;
  • an insignificant share of nonverbal forms of communication;
  • clear and explicit evaluation of all discussed topics and questions;
  • assessment of understatement as lack of competence or poor knowledge of the interlocutor;
  • open expression of dissatisfaction.

Comparing the features of each type of culture, it should be noted that representatives of these cultures have to face many difficulties when communicating with each other. It is always important to remember that one cannot react to the behavior of representatives of another culture in the same way as one would in the original culture. Sociologists can only discuss the intercultural communication (interaction) if people represent different cultures and recognize everything that does not belong to their culture as alien.

Relationships are intercultural if their participants do not resort to their own traditions, customs, notions and ways of behavior, but get acquainted with other people’s rules and norms of everyday communication. In doing so, both characteristic and unfamiliar features are constantly revealed. The difference in the type of culture largely determines the strategy of international cooperation (Jandt, 2020). In the political framework, it is important to consider the attitude of cultural representatives toward such basic concepts as honor, dignity, collective or personal responsibility. All of these determine the characteristics of a state’s social structure and its tactics in the international arena.

The example of the United States and China as representatives of different types of cultures is illustrative in this context. The Chinese, as bearers of a high context culture, view the individual as inseparable from the collective. A person’s actions, honor and dignity are determined by the opinion of the reference group, which is society as a whole, with its established patterns and customs. In U.S. society, which represents low-context culture, it is customary to view the individual as an individual. Their dignity and honor are determined on the basis of their own actions, without regard to the collective.

This difference can also be seen in the fact that countries with high contextual culture are dominated by political regimes with totalitarian features, while countries with low contextual culture build society on a more liberal basis. At the level of international negotiations, the narrative of high-context countries is accompanied by indirect statements containing subtexts or having metaphorical meaning (Jandt, 2020). The strategy of position statements in countries such as the United States is based on straightforwardness and literalness. There is also considerable variation at the legislative level. Particular circumstances in high-context countries have a much greater influence on judicial decision-making than in low-context countries, where a similar formulation of the law prevails.

Low-context cultures are also characterized by a distinction between emotions, and the importance of emotion in communication. For high-context cultures, emotions are not as important, and often cultural norms even dictate that sincere feelings must be hidden. For people from low-context cultures, such networking seems pointless because, in their view, we can get right to the point (Jandt, 2020). But the fact is that personal likes and dislikes are less important in low-context cultures. People are able to cooperate, without being friends. In high-context cultures, cooperation is possible only on the basis of respect for the other person.

Because of the differences in how people in high- and low-context cultures perceive each other’s behavior and speech, a variety of difficulties can arise during intercultural communication. For example, in intercultural interactions, representatives of high-contextual cultures consider the behavior of low-contextuals to be aggressive, largely naive, with signs of impatience and arrogance. In turn, among representatives of low contextual cultures, the behavior of high-contextuals may be seen as extremely difficult to understand. Their actions seem devoid of confidence and sincerity. However, both high-contextual and low-contextual messages can occur within the same culture. People differ from one another in the mantra of behavior, the set of typical habits of the communicative process.


Jandt, F. E. (2020). An introduction to intercultural communication: identities in a global community (10th ed.). SAGE Publications, Inc.

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