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20 January, 2016 - 16:32

The dimension of uncertainty emphasizes cultures that are either oriented toward uncertainty or toward creating certainty and stability. Hofstede described this as a society’s tolerance for ambiguity. 1 Societies that are in high uncertainty avoidance are rule-bound and pay more attention to written procedures,

rules, or goals. Individuals who have a higher need for formalized structures, procedures, or diplomacy tend to minimize their uncertainty levels in order to cope with the unknowns of their situations. Someone who is on the other extreme of the dimension is more relaxed about the rules and procedures; they are more flexible in their attitudes toward rules and policies. The value dimension can be expressed in the ways shown in Figure 3.8.

Figure 3.8 Uncertainty Value Dimension 

This dimension also speaks to a culture’s orientation toward directness and honesty. Edward Hall 2 popularized the terms “high-text” culture and “low-text” culture to describe cultural differences between two different types of societies. The ideas are often used to describe the ways in which cultures communicate and to understand what cultural constructs underlie the communication.

High-context cultures are societies in which people often make inferences; they leave things unsaid, knowing that the other person would understand what was implied in the communication. People in these societies tend to rely on groups for support. Low-context cultures are societies that are explicit and direct in their communication. They generally are more comfortable relying on themselves, as individuals, and working out solutions to problems. Like high-context cultures, relationships are important to low-context societies; the difference is in the longevity of the relationships. Generally, low-context societies have many relationships that are less intimate and close than those of high-context cultures.

Both types of cultural differentiations are illustrated in Table 3.3.

Table 3.3 High and Low Context Culture Descriptors





How They Perceive the Other Context

High context


  • Less verbally explicit communication
  • Implied meanings
  • Long-term relationships
  • Decisions and activities focus around personal, face-to-face relationships

Low-context cultures are…

  • relationship-avoidant
  • too aggressive
  • focused too much on tasks and goals



Middle East





Low context

United States

  • Rule-oriented
  • Knowledge is public and accessible
  • Short-term relationships
  • Task-centered

High-context cultures…

  • are too ambiguous
  • are quiet and modest
  • ask a lot of questions


Great Britain