Have you ever been baffled by someone else's response to a situation?

Before you write them off as rude or overly sensitive, ask yourself "Is it a cultural difference?"

Different cultures have different ideas of what is rude or polite, and everyone is influenced to some extent by culture. A culture can be as large as a world hemisphere, or as small as a team at work.

Let's look at 3 major cultural differences and how you can recognize them:

  • High vs. Low Context

  • Collectivism vs. Individualism

  • Polychronic vs. Monochronic

Byte Author Uploaded Image

High Context Vs. Low Context

What you MEAN vs. What you SAY

In a high context culture, you say things less directly. You expect others to understand what you mean and notice circumstances, tones, and body language to get the whole message. You might find it rude to be too blunt.

In a low context culture, you say things more directly. You expect others to say what they mean and take what you say at face value. You might find it rude to assume something that wasn't explicitly said, or to be too vague or unclear.

High context

  • Less direct

  • More is implied

  • Nonverbal very important

  • Example: Inside jokes

Low context

  • More direct

  • More is said

  • Nonverbal less important

  • Example: Work contracts


Which expression shows a high context way of thinking?

Collectivism Vs. Individualism

WE vs. ME

In a collectivist culture, the success of the group is more important than your personal goals. Your achievements are attributed to group efforts. You have complex social relationships, and are more likely to live with and take care of your parents as an adult.

In an individualist culture, you are responsible for your own achievements and happiness. You might work on a team, but everyone's contribution is recognized separately. You probably have a small social group, and live independently from your parents as an adult.


  • "WE" mentality

  • Group success

  • Complex social networks

  • Take care of each other


  • "ME" mentality

  • Individual success

  • Fragmented social groups

  • Everyone is self-reliant


What individualistic practice might you find in a workplace?

Polychronic Vs. Monochronic

Finish the JOB vs. Follow the CLOCK

In a polychronic culture, you value people and relationships over schedules. You work on many things at once, and don't separate work time from personal time. If dinner is at 6, you might start getting ready at 6. If you finish your tasks at work, you help others finish theirs.

In a monochronic culture, you respect people's schedules. You work on one task at a time, and separate work time from personal time. Holding people up by arriving late or making a meeting run long is rude. If you finish your tasks at work, you clock out.


  • "Better late than never"

  • Tasks flow together

  • Relationships important

  • Form relationships slowly

  • More high-context

  • More collectivist


  • "Time is money"

  • Tasks segmented

  • Schedules important

  • Form relationships quickly

  • More low-context

  • More individualist


Watch this clip from Seinfeld then take the quiz:


What is the conflict in this clip?

Take Action

Do you recognize any of these traits in your culture? Or maybe just your personality?

Remember that cultural traits are not fixed and can change based on the situation and personal preference.

The next time you see a conflict (in your life or in media), see if you can spot any of these cultural differences at play, and use it to think of a solution.

Byte Author Uploaded Image


Your feedback matters to us.

This Byte helped me better understand the topic.

Get support to take action on this Byte