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High and Low Context Culture in Business


Different cultures can be classified along a continuum with two conceptual extremes. These extremes are high and low-context cultures. “High context” and “Low context” are the terms that were popularized by Hall (1976) and they are employed to describe the wide cultural differences among the societies of people. In this paper, the high and low contexts cultures are going to be looked at. The context is going to be related to the people doing business in different countries in which there might be low or high context.

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The High and Low Context

High context is where the groups of people or societies in which individuals have had close links in the course of a long period. Most of the cultural behavior aspects are not open for the reason that many of the members are aware of what to do and what thoughts to engage in. This is so because of the long period these people have stayed together (Beer, 2003).

On the other hand, low context is in the case where people in the society have many connections with each other but these connections are just for a short period for the reasons that are specific nature. In such societies, there is need to spell out the beliefs as well as the cultural behaviors in a most explicit manner so that those people who are coming into such a society can be able to behave in such a cultural environment (Hooker, 2008).

Low context communication is mostly found in those cultures whose roots can be traced to Western Europe. Such countries in which there is low context communication include Canada, the U.S.A, Australia, New Zealand, and most parts of Europe. The remaining parts of the world are much more inclined to high context communication. However, many countries have the context that lies between the low-context and high-context communication. A country like the United Kingdom lies in between the high-context and the low-context cultures, that is, in the middle of the classification continuum (Lee, 1966).

One of the common characteristics of the low-context culture is the large number of signs as well as the widespread presence of written instructions. These may include such things as maps that are detailed on the streets, walls, in buses among other places. But on the other hand, in high context countries or cultures, very minimal information does exist that can assist someone strange in a place to get direction. People in such places already have information regarding what they are supposed to do and they do not need many directions.

One who is entering a country that has a high-context culture and wants to engage in business, the person may experience so many difficulties and it may take a very long period for the person to settle down to business. This is for the reason that, there are not many directions that guide a new person on how to go about in his or her undertakings. The people in such a place are used to knowing what to do, where to go, and so on, and they are not dependent on anybody for guidance. A new person in such a context needs more time to get to learn the culture and have to form relationships with people here before he or she can comfortably operate a business.

The case is not the same when one enters a low-context culture. Here people rely on written instructions and most of the people there do not have long-term social ties to a level that they come to understand one another more to a point that they no longer have to rely on written instructions. We might have a situation in which a person is coming from a high context culture and entering a country where there is low context culture to do business. This person might find it difficult to operate in such an environment in which people have to rely on instructions to go about in business. The person is used to staying in a society where there have been long-term relations that have brought about a shared understanding among the members of the society. Unfortunately, this person is no longer in such a society. Therefore, this person will have to take a longer time to adjust to the new environment by learning to operate by instructions; verbal as well as written.

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However, for a person who is used to staying in the low-context culture, this person might find it to be very easy to enter another country or place where there is a low-context culture. When such a person wants to enter the business, he or she does not take long to settle down and carry out his or her business operations in a comfortable manner.


Those people who are coming from a high-context culture may still encounter problems when entering into a low-context culture. They find it difficult regarding dealing with people. An individual from a high-context culture is used to depending on a long-term relationship that they have set among the members of the group or society of where he comes. This long-term relationship would have facilitated a common understanding among them and nobody needs much guidance in what she or he does. Now coming to a culture where people are guided by others, together with written instructions might sound unusual to the person. It will take time for the person to get to learn how to live and operate a business in such a society since initially social bonds with other people in this new society do not exist.

On the other hand, a person from a low-context culture will encounter problems in operating in a high-context culture. Such a person is used to reading instructions as well as signs. More so, this person is used to living in a society where people do not have long-term social ties to get to understand one another to a level that they understand what is supposed to be done without being given any instructions.

Reference List

  1. Beer, J., E., 2003, “High and low context: Communication across cultures”. [Online]. Web.
  2. Hall, Edward T., 1976, “Beyond Culture”. Garden City, NY; Anchor Books
  3. Hooker, J., 2008, “Cultural differences in business communication”. Tepper School of Business.
  4. Lee, J.A. 1966, “Cultural Analysis in Overseas Operations”. Harvard Business Review, 1966, pp 106-114.
  5. Mueller, B., 1987, “Reflections of culture: an analysis of Japanese and American advertising appeals”, Journal of Advertising Research, Vol. 27, pp. 51-9.

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