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Good communication is important, but what is communication anyway? The exchange of information? Many people think that communication is the same as the use of language. An understandable thought, because without a language it would probably be impossible to pass on information for this assignment.
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People spend about seventy percent of their day on language, this means talking, listening, reading and writing. Therefore language is very important for people to pass on information.
A man with a red head, throbbing veins and a clenched fist, crying out: ‘Are you kidding me, I am not angry’.
This shows that we are not only communicating in languages (verbal communication), but also through body language (nonverbal communication). In this case, the nonverbal communication includes the red-faced head, throbbing veins, clenched fists, his volume and the tone of voice.
Verbal and nonverbal expressions have different communication powers. The person from the example claims that he was not angry, but most people will not believe him. Because his body language ‘says’ something else.
In cases in which language and body language contradict each other, the body is believed rather than the spoken word.
Types of nonverbal communication
Emotions can be found throughout the whole body, posture and by gestures, but especially on the face. You can read a lot of emotions from the position of the eyebrows, mouth and particularly the lips. Non verbal communication can be a huge difference in cultures. But the facial expression for happiness, sadness, anger and fear are similar throughout the whole world.
Some people support their story with many movements. Sometimes they need to beckon the people to make something clear. For example, you would specify how big or small something is or you have to make a move. This includes movement of the hands, face, or other parts of the body. Sometimes simple gestures are symbols, as the fist with the thumb up: ‘Well done’ or with the thumbs down. ‘Really bad’.
Eyes are the mirror of the soul. The most deep and intense emotions are expressed through the eyes. Therefore eye contact is almost a synonym for personal contact. It is also very sensitive, because when you look someone too long to attract attention, this can be seen as rude or even intrusive, this is only the case when the other side doesn’t want any contact. It can also be nice to have eye contact and it might be interesting to see how the other responds. Maintaining eye contact while both speaking and listening is a sign of confidence and interest.
Your body language can give you an individual status or power. It says something about who you are. For example, when you are a little shy, you will probably look to the ground. The movements of your hands and feet can be a bit slow. If you are a proud person you will walk with your head up, shoulders back, chest forward and with a lot of enthusiasm.
Communication through object communication
In our culture, the choice of clothing is an important way to communicate without words. Someone who will apply for a job will generally watch carefully what he wears and if anyone should give a presentation to a group of important people he will not normally do that in a pair of jeans. It is therefore surprising to see that relatively little research has been conducted to see a person clothing. It does appear that someone’s clothing should not underestimated the importance for the picture others have of him and the impact that his words are. But it is very difficult to cover general rules. What we can say is that people respond more positively to someone wearing similar clothing than someone with a totally different style.
An American student had to interview farmers as vacation work. The first day he dressed in a suit with tie. He received little cooperation from the farmers. When he decided to wear jeans and a working shirt, he got considerably more response from the farmers.
Someone appears to be believed better when his clothes and hair are better cared. But this is only the case when people do not know each other, so they have to make a good first impression.
In the business world there are usually very strict dress rules. Not (well) aware of these rules can have a major impact on how others respond to you. Wrong choices in this area may therefore be harmful to your career. If you are underdressed or overdressed it may have a result in falling out of place.
When you look at someone’s appearance, you can see how someone feels or what they want to radiate. For example, if someone has a hair bun it radiates neatness and meticulousness. Short shaven hair and spines radiate an easy and modern behavior. A beard may indicate wisdom, but also someone who is slovenly or it has to do with religion beliefs. If a woman has shaved hair it can arouse the suspicion that she is a lesbian, which is often a prejudice.
Clothing can also be a form of communication. For example, you can see what kind of job the person has. When he/she wears a suit, he or she probably has an office job. You can also see what kind of music someone loves, (Punk, hardcore, R&B) by the clothes they are wearing.
For a lot of people branded clothing is often an important factor. It gives a certain status and suggests a certain quality. It often can characterize a particular group.
When you pay attention to colors you can see how someone’s life is. For example, someone wearing lots of bright, cheerful colors, is often an optimistic person. And someone with all-black clothes radiates sadness or just wants to make a statement.
When and how to make eye contact in different cultures
Like all mammals, the behavior of the eyes of people is very important. We have already seen that people respond positively to pupil expulsions. However, if someone sees something unpleasant, pupils will be smaller.
The preference for the eyes seems to be a natural feature. Babies that are an hour old show a strong preference for forms that strongly resemble a face compare to other forms.
Another very important sign is eye contact with the eyes. People who love each other are looking with pleasure to each other.
If someone looks at another person for a longer period, so that is seems not be functional, will look aggressive. This applies much more for men than women. Men who have too much eye contact are more experienced as dominant or even aggressive compared to women. This is probably because too tightly is associated with rage and anger.
Many teachers use the viewing behavior as an indicator if they want to select students who’s homework they will check. After the teacher asks a question, he or she looks around the classroom. Students know the answer, will look to the teacher, while students who do not know the answer will often avoid eye contact.
By looking at eye movements of people, you can see how people think about issues.
§ If someone thinks visually and he will look left or right or look right through the center tail.
§ If someone thinks phonetically, he or she will move their eyes to the right center, left center or lower left part of the eye.
§ If someone thinks kinesthetic, he or she will look to the bottom right.
Here are a few different angles. These angles are for right-handed people. For the left-handed people it can be the other way around.
A. Visually constructed images
If someone looks to the right center, he tries to imagine something visually that hasn’t actually occurred. He thinks from his imagination. According to the forecast, people could respond in this way to questions like: How do you spell your name backwards? (People can only do this if they are trying to see their name)
B. Visually remembered images
If someone looks to the left center, while talking, this means that he is trying to remember it visually. In this case his memory is very important. People will respond to a question like: “What do you see when you are walking to the station?”
When people are looking right through the middle, without focusing, they often try to illustrate something. This is often by asking for examples of abstract concepts: “Give me an example of social inequality.”
D. Constructed noise
Middle right means that someone is trying to make noises that he had not previously heard: “How would Mozart on a synthesizer sound?”
E. Remembered sounds
Eye movements to the left center indicate that someone is trying to remember a word or sound: “Is the second note of that song lower or higher than the third?”
F. Internal dialogue
Bottom left represents the internal dialogue: “What do you say to yourself when you are trying to talk courage to yourself?”
When people look to the bottom right, it refers to feelings and bodily sensations: “How does it feel when you are feeling very hungry?”
Can you see when someone is lying?
Some people are hard to catch on a lie, even if they lie. Facial expressions are not always a reliable source of information to identify the lie. Some people smile while they lie, while another just has a quiet expression. Some evidence that people lie:
§ People who lie often take a closed attitude.
People who lie, uses their language differently and they often leave ‘holes’ in their conversation, presumably to prevent what they say might betray them.
§ The voice of people who lie usually goes higher than when those same people tell the truth.
§ Liars often though their face or playing with pencils or other objects.
The FBI can look at peoples eye movements. People who describe a situation or condition that have occurred here are their eyes to move left (remember for pictures) or to left center (for recalled words). When people think of words as they contrast to the right center and made statues the right to be here.
But if someone constantly fumble with items in his hands, after a question, it obviously cannot be concluded that he is lying because he is fumbling. And if somebody has suddenly a closed attitude, this does not mean that he is lying. It may be that he just tells the truth, but it is so painful that he signed an attitude.
In general, people pay more attention to someone’s body language than to their words. Words determine the topic, but the way those words are expressed, determines how the message is interpreted. One explanation for the credibility of non-verbal communication besides verbal communication is that words are much easier to control than our behavior. Many people who lie find it difficult to keep eye contact and start to blush.
Sometimes nonverbal communication is not difficult to control. Someone who likes another person, often get ‘caught’ because of the fact that their pupils grow bigger when he or she looks at that person. Sender and receiver are both not aware of this pupil reaction, but the receiver picks up the information unconsciously. This person gets positive and warm feelings for the person with the enlarged pupils. 1
So it may be interesting to watch the body language of people around you.
Did we learn nonverbal behavior?
Most of our nonverbal behavior we have learned through the years. Some of the gestures may have completely different meanings in different countries.If someone in France points to his head he finds you pretty smart. But if the Frenchman points his hand to his sleep, he wants to say that you are crazy in a negative way. And if we are accepting something we make a circle with thumb and forefinger. ‘Ok’. But in Brazil this gesture means a contempt notion. Some nonverbal behaviors are probably not learned but self thought. Facial expressions for interest, joy, surprise, fear, anger, pain, disgust, contempt and shame have the same meaning in all cultures of the world. This strongly suggests that at least some facial expressions are congenital standards.
Another proof that some expressions of emotions are self thought, is that deaf and blind children have the same basic facial expressions for emotions as people who do not have disabilities (e.g. crying, smiling, fear and anger). These emotions can’t be wrong interpreted by looking at their faces.
Although certain facial expressions are innate, it does not mean that they are always shown by people. Our education can ensure that certain expressions are not appropriate for adults to be shown. By culture and growing up, the expression of an innate emotion itself is changing. Thus, the innate facial expression for anger is showing the teeth and frown the eyebrows, in order to protect the eyes. In many cultures it shows the innate expression of anger openly. Instead, those oppressed by the teeth and the lips to be pressed. This also prevents people verbalizing their anger to continue swearing.
If people who are angry no longer protect their eyes by frowning, but just dilate their eyes and show their teeth, this is usually a sign that someone is no longer in control. He even not thinks anymore about protect himself. And if he gets a fair complexion which is transported through blood to the muscles, it is time for you to find a safe place to hide. Because these people are really dangerous.
- 1 Hess, 1975
- 2 Eibl-Eibesfledt, 1970
Also for other emotions, cultures can add to those feelings to show the other non-native form.
Japanese and American students were shown pictures of very bloody operations. If the students thought they were no longer observed, the facial expressions of Japanese and Americans are identical: the horror on their faces was plain to see. However, if they knew they were observed, unlike the Japanese. Americans were to hide their horror by smiling. In Japan it is rude to show your emotions openly in presence of others.3There are also differences in culture is often seen between men and women. For example in western cultures it is much more common for women to openly demonstrate sorrow compared to men. Men are more expected that they control their emotions (Real men do not cry!). People seem to be quite aware of their facial expressions. As already shown by the example of Japanese and American students, facial expressions, like languages, can be controlled. This has not always the best facial expressions (nonverbal indicator of what people really feel).
3. Research of Paul Ekman
Meaning of the arms and hands
Hands are frequently used to support verbal communication. Gestures often have a logical and traceable meaning. Some gestures are very clear in meaning. So we all know the insulting gesture of the middle finger. Other gestures have a meaning that is rooted in history.
In England, for example, there are two gestures that are very similar:
Everyone knows the famous V-sign of ‘victory’, made famous by Winston Churchill: the index and middle fingers of the right hand raised with the palm, but with the palm facing inwards. The main difference is the direction of the palm. With the palm directed toward the other has a positive meaning. With the outside of the hand addresses to the other is an offensive gesture.
It is impossible to map all signs in the world. Here are some examples:
§ Making a fist usually has an aggressive or offensive meaning.
§ Showing the back of the hand is often referred to as being offensive. It usually has a negative signal value for the other.
§ Showing open hands, palms up often has a submissive pleading or meaning. It generally has a non-aggressive signal value for the other.
§ Showing open hands, palms towards the other, often has a bowing, submissive or
defensive meaning. It usually has a non-aggressive signal value for the other.
§ The downward keeping the palms often has a calming, enchanting sense.
§ The further the hands held together, the less vulnerable a person feels himself generally speaking.
The hands are sometimes busy moving body parts or hidden in a trouser pocket. Hands tells people always something. It can show feelings and moods. They tell their own interpretation of events. But how to recognize certain feelings and attitudes?
Here are some examples, feelings of the hands:
§ Uncertainty: Someone has his hands all entangled. The palms are fully hedged. Soft
fingertips rubbing against each other to indicate that a person has a
conflict, challenge or prefer to avoid discussion going.
§ Dominant: A person has his hands behind his back. The person is confident of himself
and feels dominantly.
§ Apparent dominant: An individual has his hands behind his back. The person wants
the world to convince that he feels dominant.
§ Hide: A person has his hands hidden in his pockets. He wants no positive nor a negative
reaction, he takes the role of an observer.
Examples, attitudes of hands:
§ Open palms: This is a reliable measure of whether someone is honest.
§ Questioning hand: The hand with the palm facing upward with your fingers is more or
less a ‘bowl’ shape.
§ Stop sign: During a conversation one person raises his hand, together with the palm
facing out. The person indicates that it is ‘enough’.
§ The commanding hand: The hand points to the palm as if the hand down any rebellion
from below suppressed.
How to improve your nonverbal communication skills?
Some people don’t believe that you can learn nonverbal skills, but you can. It will lead you to a few surprises. When you pay attention to nonverbal aspects of communication it will improve your communication skills. It can help you in both your personal and professional life. It can also enhance your own ability to communicate effectively because people are not always aware of the signals of nonverbal communication.
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It is very important to pay attention to nonverbal signals, like eye contact, gestures, postures, and body movements. It can help you to understand some difficult words or meanings.
In some cases words do not match nonverbal behavior. The other person can say that he or she is happy but the look on their face will show you that he or she is unhappy. Also the tone of the voice can give you information of that person. People can say some words in an enthusiastic, disinteresting or even angry manner.
So if you want to show interest in something or someone, express your enthusiasm by using your enthusiasm in the tone of voice.
When people are evading or trying to hide something or someone, you can see it in their eyes. Eye contact is an important part of communication, it’s important to remember that good eye contact does not mean staring constantly into someone’s eyes. Your eye-contact may last up to four or five seconds.
Behavior in other cultures can be interpreted very differently. For example, in Arabic countries men greet another with a handshake. Men, however, may not handshake with women. In many Asian countries the handshake is not so common. They use an alternative way of greeting such as nodding one hand on their chest or bend in different degrees of depth.
Habits and conducts, for example from different religions can have a big influence on the physical presentation of people from other cultures. Another difference between Arabic and European people is that the left hand in Arab cultures is unclean. Also crossing your legs is an insult for Arabic people because if you show your foot sole, you are disrespectful.
Cross-cultural misunderstanding of nonverbal communication
The three-step method of Intercultural communication (dr. pinto).
Culture and culture models
People do not exactly know what the meaning of culture is. But it has something to do with values, habits, history, knowledge, experience, beliefs, attitudes, meanings, hierarchies, religion, roles, relations and manners of people behaving, that are different from other cultures.
It is very difficult to find the definition for culture. Therefore it is probably easier to explain culture by discussing a number of theories.
Theory 1. The fishbowl Model
The Fishbowl Model describes the natural instinct humans have to act upon our own perceived short-term individual benefit, rather than long-term benefit or the benefit of others. The Fishbowl offers the class an opportunity to closely observe and learn about social interactions. You can use it in almost every area.
Theory 2. The Iceberg Model
This model is about the visible and invisible cultural aspects; The practices described above are the tip of the iceberg, the things we can see, hear, observe. The small part above the water level is visible. In it, we can include manners, customs, and languages: all things we can observe and learn. We also talk about the explicit aspects of culture, those aspects that we can easily describe.
However, the larger chunk, is hidden under water, and we cannot see it. This is where we find the values and the vision of the world, the way of thinking and the assumptions we have. All these aspects are hidden; we cannot easily express our values.
Theory 3. Union Model of Culture
The Onion Model of Culture shows how culture has a number of layers. There are a number of interpretations of this model out the most easy one consists of four key layers.
‘Culture is a system that can be peeled, layer by layer, in order to reveal the content’. Imagine the whole onion as ‘culture’ and as you peel on, you see different levels which work on and influence culture, in any particular society’.4
Significant conversations are those that move beyond the material and behavioral levels (first two rings) to consider values, beliefs and worldview. This means that the goal is to move beyond comments about our environment (for example weather, sports) and behavior (our preferences for schools, holidays, church) to consider values (appropriate behavior, sexual morality), beliefs (value of human life) and worldview.
4. Geert Hofstede
Answer to the main question
‘What does nonverbal communication exactly means and what kind of effect has nonverbal communication on people from different cultures’.
§ Basisprincipes van communicatie, Klaas Wiertzema & Patricia Jansen
§ Communicatie handboek, Drs. W.J. Michels
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