Working In Low-Context Cultures
You will know you are walking into a low-context culture situation when you see that things are explicitly laid out. People in low-context cultures tend to prefer over-communicating versus under-communicating.
According to Tech Tello, the United States is the lowest context culture in the world.
If you work with people from low-context cultures, you will want to be mindful of how you communicate and what your colleagues expect.
A low-context culture expects communications to be direct, explicit, and precise. If you work in a culture like this, you will want to make sure you adapt to this communication style.
Consider the following:
- Direct – Being direct means saying what you mean. For example, if you don’t like the new layout options you need to express this directly. You can say, “I don’t like this current layout. I would like to see other options.” Being indirect can confuse people from low-context cultures. If you said, “I like it. I think it needs more colors.” Then, the person from the low-context culture would hear you say you liked it when you didn’t like it at all. Be sure you are direct in your communications.
- Explicit – Being explicit means being extremely detailed in your communications. This ensures there is no confusion about what is needed. For example, if you are in charge of a meeting, you may write the minutes to ensure everyone is on the same page. You could have a minute-by-minute schedule. This way, everyone knows what to expect and when it is happening.
- Precise – Being precise in your communications means not using generalities. For example, you could say, “Drive two miles and then make a left” when giving directions to someone. “Then, drive half of a mile and make a right.” When precise, the person knows exactly how far to drive and when to turn. If you weren’t precise, you could say, “Drive down the road a bit, then make a left.” When you say this, the person isn’t sure how far to drive. Precision is critical in low-context cultures.
Being mindful of what your low-context colleagues expect in communications will help you be a better team player.
2. Over Communication
People in low-context cultures want to make sure things are written out. So you will see things like pamphlets, brochures, and signs. This is because when things are seen, there is a greater chance of everyone being on the same page.
Consider the following:
- Emails – In a low-context culture, multiple emails are expected. For example, team emails are very common in low-context cultures. Even if the information received isn’t necessarily the information you need, the team wants to ensure everyone has all the information. You can expect a lot of emails and messages when working with low-context cultures.
- Meetings – People from low-context cultures often like to have many meetings. This is another way for people to over-communicate. For example, weekly check-in meetings are extremely common. Even if there isn’t a project to discuss these cultures like to check in to ensure everyone is still on the same page. You can expect to be in more meetings when working with people in low-context cultures.
- Signs – Countries considered low-context cultures are the United States, Western European Countries, and Australia, to name a few. When walking around these countries, you will find signs almost everywhere. For example, as you drive down any highway in the US, you will see mile-marker, exit, food, gas, and interchange signs, to name a few. Low-context cultures expect signs to help them navigate and understand what is happening in the world around them.
Over-communicating is part of the low-context culture. People from these countries like to ensure everyone is on the same page.
You will know you’re walking into this environment when you can see things written out verbatim. This is what low-context cultures value.
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