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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.