Importance Of Non Verbal Communication Cultural Studies Essay

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Non-verbal communication is a very important aspect of communication. No one can communicate without the use of non-verbal communication, even if they try.

Main question

How can non-verbal communication contribute in communication between different cultures ?

Because not everything can be said by words, there is often use non-verbal communication to express one selves. Also if there is a language barrier, there can be used non-verbal communication to make clear to one another what is meant.

The famous linguist G.W. Porter divided non-verbal communication into four categories, namely:


This is about the movements of the body, facial expression, eye movement, tone of voice, the way we touch and smell and many more things like that.


Trough creative expressions like painting, music, dramatics, sculpture dancing, etc, people can transfer messages.


Here you can think of non-verbal communication for people who are blind. They communicate trough sign language. Furthermore sings like road signs are also types of non-verbal communication.


The last category exists out of the type of non-verbal communication that is implied in religious, spiritual and cultural symbols. So like praying, celebrating, greeting, wishing good luck , etc.

I've chosen for this categories because the different subject are clearly subscribed.

By following this four categories there is an explicit guideline and frame of what is meant by non-verbal communication in this literature research.

How to use non-verbal communication?

There is not a real guideline of 'how non-verbal communication should be used'. But here are some factors which can take into account when non-verbal communication is used. If you are aware of this factors and know how to use them, you can improve your non verbal communication.

These are factors are:


People can move their bodies in different ways. Examples are head nods, leg movements, postures and gestures. These are called kinesics. Observing that sort of movements , is the best way to find out what kind of personality and behavior a person possesses.

Gestures can be divided into three types, namely:


Using non-verbal communication in place of words like yes, no and hi and so on.


This gestures are often used during speech. These are gestures like banging on the table or closing your palm in fist. They 'illustrate' and strengthen the verbal communication.


Movements made in nervous state of mind. These movements are often unaware, like cracking fingers, tapping foots, shaking legs. This can be cost by lack of confidence. .

You can lift the quality of your personality, using Kinesics positively. For example with practice you can get rid of the unconscious movements of your body, that show lack of confidence from your part.


This includes the movement of eyes and facial expressions.

The transfer of emotions is an important part of facial expressions. Also it can tell something about the posture of the communicator. Furthermore it is a better mirror of the meaning behind a message than words.

Eye contact is a direct and powerful form of non-verbal communication.

The direct stare conveys openness.

Eyes rolled upward are associated with fatigue.

Long stare shows lack of respect for others or superiority.

Downward glances are associated either with modesty or shyness.

With drawl of eye-contact is a sign of submission.

Frequently looking at people from a distance: Sign of extrovert behavior.

Scarcely looking at people: Introvert behavior.

Too little eye contact shows shyness, insincerity, dishonesty.

Research shows left lookers are more emotional, subjective while right lookers are influenced by logic.


Refer to the pitch, tone, intonation, modulation, rate of speech etc. The emotion conveyed through paralinguistics can be accurately judged regardless of the content of the message. The voice is important because it complements the message we intend to convey. The tone, pitch and quality of your voice has a great influence on the interpretation of your message.

Personal space (proximity):

Cultural norms dictate a comfortable distance for interaction. Proximity is the space you place between yourself and others. The impact of use of space on the communication process is related directly to the environment in which the space is maintained. You can divide the space zones into intimate, personal, socal and public according to the situation. Your personal space an environment would facilitate the communication process.


Personal appearance, the style of dress up, personal hygiene say a lot about you. Once your personality attracts the people, you start scoring immediately. Your appearance, clothing, style, the perfume you use, the cell phone you are carrying, your pen, your briefcase, your shoes (polished or unpolished), al transmit a message. Even small details about your outward appearance carries a message.


Silence can be a positive or negative influence in the communication process. Sometimes it creates peace, at other times it may send a cold response resulting in tension.


How much do you value your time? Do you maintain a schedule? Always take an appointment if you want to meet somebody. If you are conducting meetings, inform about the duration of meeting. Do not divert from the main point while conducting meeting. That will be a wastage of time. Making people wait for you may not raise your status. Be punctual.


Communication trough touch is obviously non-verbal. Use this science of touch properly. If it is used improperly, it can ruin the relationship. Touch therapy can heal the emotional wounds too. For example, a pat on the shoulders sends a message of encouragement, holding hands shows goodwill, stepping on someone's feet is an example of carelessness. So be careful in your Tacticle communication and send the positive waves.

Non-verbal communication is a reflection of you inner-self. Verbal communication may be fabricated, you can hide your feelings, your attitude by selecting the words of your choice but unconsciously you present a true picture of yourself through non-verbal means of communication.

Which differences are there concerning non-verbal communication between cultures?

There are many differences between cultures. Ways to communicate non-verbally are not an exception on that fact. To name all the varieties is not an option because there are too many. Instead of that there will be given some examples of differs.

General Appearance and Dress

All cultures are concerned for how they look and make judgements based on looks and dress.  Americans, for instance, appear almost obsessed with dress and personal attractiveness.  Consider differing cultural standards on what is attractive in dress and on what constitutes modesty. Note ways dress is used as a sign of status?

Body Movement

We send information on attitude toward person (facing or leaning towards another), emotional statue (tapping fingers, jiggling coins), and desire to control the environment (moving towards or away from a person).

More than 700,000 possible motions we can make - so impossible to categorize them all!  But just need to be aware the body movement and position is a key ingredient in sending messages.


Consider the following actions and note cultural differences:

Bowing (not done, criticized, or affected in US; shows rank in Japan)

Slouching (rude in most Northern European areas)

Hands in pocket (disrespectful in Turkey)

Sitting with legs crossed (offensive in Ghana, Turkey)

Showing soles of feet. (Offensive in Thailand, Saudi Arabia)

Even in US, there is a gender difference on acceptable posture?  


Impossible to catalog them all.  But need to recognize: 1) incredible possibility and variety and 2) that an acceptable in one's own culture may be offensive in another.  In addition, amount of gesturing varies from culture to culture.  Some cultures are animated; other restrained.  Restrained cultures often feel animated cultures lack manners and overall restraint.  Animated cultures often feel restrained cultures lack emotion or interest.

Even simple things like using hands to point and count differ.

Pointing : US with index finger; Germany with little finger; Japanese with entire hand (in fact most Asians consider pointing with index finger to be rude) Counting:  Thumb = 1 in Germany, 5 in Japan, middle finger for 1 in Indonesia.

Facial Expressions

While some say that facial expressions are identical, meaning attached to them differs.  Majority opinion is that these do have similar meanings world-wide with respect to smiling, crying, or showing anger, sorrow, or disgust.  However, the intensity varies from culture to culture.  Note the following:

Many Asian cultures suppress facial expression as much as possible.

Many Mediterranean (Latino / Arabic) cultures exaggerate grief or sadness while most American men hide grief or sorrow.

Some see "animated" expressions as a sign of a lack of control.

Too much smiling is viewed in as a sign of shallowness.

Women smile more than men.  

Eye Contact and Gaze

In USA, eye contact indicates: degree of attention or interest, influences attitude change or persuasion, regulates interaction, communicates emotion, defines power and status, and has a central role in managing impressions of others.

Western cultures - see direct eye to eye contact as positive (advise children to look a person in the eyes).  But within USA, African-Americans use more eye contact when talking and less when listening with reverse true for Anglo Americans.  This is a possible cause for some sense of unease between races in US.  A prolonged gaze is often seen as a sign of sexual interest.

Arabic cultures make prolonged eye-contact. - believe it shows interest and helps them understand truthfulness of the other person.  (A person who doesn't reciprocate is seen as untrustworthy)

Japan, Africa, Latin American, Caribbean - avoid eye contact to show respect.  


Why do we touch, where do we touch, and what meanings do we assign when someone else touches us?

  Illustration: An African-American male goes into a convenience store recently taken over by new Korean immigrants.  He gives a $20 bill for his purchase to Mrs Cho who is cashier and waits for his change.  He is upset when his change is put down on the counter in front of him.

What is the problem?  Traditional Korean (and many other Asian countries) don't touch strangers., especially between members of the opposite sex.   But the African-American sees this as another example of discrimination (not touching him because he is black).

Basic answer:  Touch is culturally determined!  But each culture has a clear concept of what parts of the body one may not touch.  Basic message of touch is to affect or control  - protect, support, disapprove (i.e. hug, kiss, hit, kick).  

USA - handshake is common (even for strangers), hugs, kisses for those of opposite gender or of family (usually) on an increasingly  more intimate basis. Note differences between African-Americans and Anglos in USA.  Most African Americans touch on greeting but are annoyed if touched on the head (good boy, good girl overtones).

Islamic and Hindu:  typically don't touch with the left hand.  To do so is a social insult.  Left hand is for toilet functions.  Mannerly in India to break your bread only with your right hand (sometimes difficult for non-Indians)

 Islamic cultures generally don't approve of any touching between genders (even handshakes).  But consider such touching (including hand holding, hugs) between same-sex to be appropriate.

Many Asians don't touch the head (Head houses the soul and a touch puts it in jeopardy).

Basic patterns: Cultures (English , German, Scandinavian, Chinese, Japanese) with high emotional restraint concepts have little public touch; those which encourage emotion (Latino, Middle-East, Jewish) accept frequent touches.


USA - fear of offensive natural smells (billion dollar industry to mask objectionable odors with what is perceived to be pleasant ) - again connected with "attractiveness" concept.

Many other cultures consider natural body odors as normal (Arabic).

Asian cultures (Filipino, Malay, Indonesian, Thai, Indian) stress frequent bathing - and often criticize USA of not bathing often enough!  


vocal characterizers (laugh, cry, yell, moan, whine, belch, yawn).  These send different messages in different cultures (Japan - giggling indicates embarrassment; India - belch indicates satisfaction)

vocal qualifiers (volume, pitch, rhythm, tempo, and tone).  Loudness indicates strength in Arabic cultures and softness indicates weakness; indicates confidence and authority to the Germans,; indicates impoliteness to the Thais; indicates loss of control to the Japanese. (Generally, one learns not to "shout" in Asia for nearly any reason!).  Gender based as well: women tend to speak higher and more softly than men.

vocal segregates (un-huh, shh, uh, ooh, mmmh, humm, eh, mah, lah).  Segregates indicate formality, acceptance, assent, uncertainty.

Given this information there can be concluded that there are a lot of forms of non-verbal communication but thereby there are also a lot of different meanings of that forms of non-verbal communication. Some hand gestures can have totally different meanings in different cultures. Furthermore things like eye contact and touching are also important to be careful with when you are in a different country, because there are many differences in that too.

Which differences are there between England and Holland, concerning non-verbal communication?

Hereunder are the differences shown in non-verbal communication between England and Holland by the four categories named earlier.





Can the use of non-verbal communication between different cultures cause trouble?

What are the benefits of using non-verbal communication between different cultures?

Conclusion main Question

Inter alia with the answers of the sub-questions and of course the studied literature the main question will be answered in this chapter.

How can non-verbal communication contribute in communication between different cultures ?

List of sources


Gupta, S,(2008). Communication Skills and Functional Grammar. New Dheli: University Science Press.