Over the past several years, researchers exploring the various facets of intercultural communication have developed labels for the value that certain cultures place on direct versus indirect communication: high-context cultures and low-content cultures.
Characteristics of High-Context Cultures
Put very simply, a high-context culture is one that relies heavily on nonverbal communication and implicit verbal queues. High-context cultures include those found in many countries in Central Europe, Latin America, Asia, Africa and the Middle East. People from these regions typically display the following behaviors and traits:
• Identity is based strongly upon the family and/or work group.
• Relationships are based heavily on trust and develop very slowly.
• Great emphasis is placed on subtle, nonverbal communication.
• Verbal communication is often relatively indirect.
• People typically have very small areas of “personal space.”
• Time is viewed differently and is seen as more of a process belonging to nature.
• Several different sources are used in the learning process.
Characteristics of Low-Context Cultures
On the other hand, low-context cultures rely more heavily on communication that is clearly defined and explicit. Examples of low-context cultures include the U.S., Australia, and several countries in Western Europe. People from these cultures often exhibit the following characteristics and traits:
• Identity is based on one’s self and the person’s own accomplishments.
• Relationships develop quickly and come to an end quickly.
• Nonverbal communication is not important.
• Verbal communication is seen as the only effective means of disseminating information and sharing ideas.
• An individual’s personal space is often relatively large and privacy is highly valued.
• Time is seen as a commodity; scheduling of events and tasks is common.
• Often a single source is depended upon in the learning process.
It’s probably not surprising that the writing of an author is impacted by whether that person comes from a high-context or a low-context culture. A writer who comes from a high-context culture may automatically assume that his or her readers already know the “backstory,” so not a lot of additional detail is necessary. An author from a low-context culture, on the other hand, may feel the need to write more literally and perhaps include more information than his or her counterpart from a high-context culture.