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The process of sharing ideas and feelings with others is all-important. Communication is the human interaction that all humans can not do without. Our very first parents initiated this behaviour taking hundreds of centuries to develop and refine to what is today. Despite differences, humans share the same communication behaviour all over the globe. It is the communication behaviour that is common and shared by all. In particular, differences occur in methods by which this people or that nation communicates. As a vital activity for all human beings, communication has long been studied. Scholars and researchers of different disciplines, including psychology and sociology, have immensely contributed to this complex and multifaceted concept. John Fiske suggests that communication is a multidisciplinary area of study rather than an academic subject in the common sense of the word (Introduction to Communication Studies, 1). Thus, providing a definition for communication is not a simple task one might think, it is complicated and illusive. It is a process that enables receiving and getting our messages across to others as a response. Along my readings on communication, I have come across a wide range of definitions and approaches to the concept of communication. Researchers have given countless definitions. Dance and Larson once tried to count these definitions to find that they exceed a hundred and twenty. Since Dance and Larson trial, other additional definitions have been introduced. Samovar and Porter in Communication Between Cultures hold to the definition advanced by Ruben and Stewart which defines human communication as “the process through which individuals in relationships, groups, organizations and societies respond to and create messages to adapt to the environment and one another” (22). My aim in this paper is to discuss the concept of non-verbal communication as. Yet, I see that pursuing in clarifying what communication is stands relatively pertinent since it serves as an entry to our conceptualization of the aspect of non-verbal communication. The paper attempts to shed light on that dim part of human communication and aims at discussing the different aspects of non-verbal communication in relation to culture. As culture has a very particular connection with communication in general, importance is as well given to the role culture plays in non-verbal communication. It is all the time culture that shapes our view and use of silent language. Body language (Kinesics) and Proximics (The use of both time and space) and their relation to culture form the two main points approached in this paper.
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Consciously or unconsciously, individuals communicate with others using a set of non-verbal messages and signals that render them effective members within their communities. It is noticeable that children primarily begin their communication essays trying to send messages even before learning their primary uttering. Inspecting the human behaviour provides clues about the use of non-verbal messages. Humans communicate a great deal using body gestures, signals and signs. Non-verbal communication has always been referred to as body language. It is that hidden dimension of human communication. Exceptional of this concept is that an individual can send messages through without even being aware of his or her engagement in this communicative interaction. Normally, a person in a simple communication process chooses the words he or she would use to get his or her messages across. Yet, a simple sigh of a person sitting in a waiting room is actually a message unconsciously communicated to others sitting in the same room meaning that he might be tired or annoyed waiting for a long time. Non-verbal communication seems by now intricate and multidimensional.
Kinesics explores our body movements’ messages
Body language develops our communication.
Language is essential and all-important in human communication. Yet, it is not the only channel through which individuals get to communicate between each other. Another language emerges as a relatively significant avenue of meaning transfer. Humans can particularly communicate and get their messages across to others using simple body movements. Gestures, postures, signs, touches, and smells have been all referred to as body language. Most people communicate and send messages to others without being conscious and well aware they use another language or channel that has its unique rules and principles. We all understand and get what others might tell us by a certain hand movement or eye blink. Body language stands as a permanent channel of our non-verbal communication. It is learned through our enculturation process remaining rooted and can hardly be altered. Body language is that hidden part of the communication skills we get out of our language and culture learning.
Obviously, the basic function of body language is meaning transfer. Humans unconsciously developed a set of body gestures, signs, and signals that carry messages and meanings by which they communicate between each other sending and receiving messages swiftly and conveniently. Scholars have previously come to know the importance of body language the fact that results in the development of a body language vocabulary which they have named Kinesics (Britannica 2002). “Kinesic cues are those visible body shifts and movements that can send messages” (Communication Between Cultures, 174). Action does communicate something. Sometimes a situation can not be clearly worded. Hereby the need for a gesture a signal or a body movement comes to express what is intended to be communicated. A person who is talking with his intimate friend can refer to a previously agreed on fact or idea by a simple eye blink when another foreign person is present in the discussion. In this particular situation for instance, the fact or idea intended to be communicated can not be if one of the intimate friends does not resort to their conventional non-verbal communication system.
Eye contact is highly appreciated by several people belonging to different cultures. It is really a noteworthy channel of communication. Beyond this, the pupils of a person can communicate a whole range of messages and meanings. By way of illustration, a man’s widening or shrinking pupils obviously carry meaning. This might mean that the person is probably surprised, excited, normal or even sad. In some cultures, when someone tends to break eye contact, he or she might intend to communicate to others that he or she is depressed or in a troubled situation.
Body language, as a major part of non-verbal communication, bears a number of channels through which individuals come to communicate among each other. Examples include one’s personal way of dressing. A person can consciously or unconsciously communicate to his society, to his family, to his friends or classmates etc a set of meanings and messages just by the way he or she dresses. Consider a person wearing a suit with a jacket, trousers and a necktie and another dressed in a dungaree. At first glance, you are likely to say that the first person is may be attending a formal meeting when the second one is may be working somewhere or present in an informal context. Clothing can be a relatively efficient way or channel of communication. Arabs, in general, place high premium on the way they dress. They plainly still stick to their traditional garments. We, Moroccans, usually wear “Jellabas” in Fridays to communicate our respect for the holy day. We may also tend to manifest our respect of our prophets’ Sunna. Clothes can determine how other people treat each other. Humans draw upon other people’s way of dressing to create their first impressions. By first impressions, people create standards on which they rely on to treat others.
Postures or sitting habits are another aspect of our bodies’ non-verbal communication (Communication Between Cultures, 174). It is always culture that teaches, defines and classifies these body shifts as being normal, acceptable, uncommon or offensive. Asian people, for instance, as a form of respect. Military people placing their hands at their foreheads in a special manner tend to communicate their respect to others who rank higher than them. Sitting cross-legged can be offensive to others in some cultures when it can also be interpreted as a sign of feeling comfortable.
The use of body gestures aforementioned in the example of eye contact as an avenue of communication can be further considered and illustrated. In some cultures, people’s use of body language goes hand in hand with their verbal communication. The majority of people make use of their hands as well as facial expressions accompanied with verbal communication so as to get their messages across to others. In some cultures, people can not even bear leading a debate with someone who limits himself or herself to verbal communication excluding any sort of helping gestures and movements. Let’s take teaching as an example. Predictably, good teachers are supposed to use their hands, and move on so that their students could well get the points they talk about. Conversely, teachers who would stand before their students speaking and further speaking without any kind of body movements or signals are to be uncommon and discretely different. Students might describe one of these teachers as statuary. It does really make a difference. Body language does help the verbal communication when used simultaneously.
Culture profoundly impacts our Kinesic behaviours.
Throughout considering non-verbal communication, we cannot dismiss the contribution that culture has to communication. The concepts of culture and communication are indispensable. For non-verbal communication, culture has as well an effective role in shaping, determining and understanding the non-verbal behaviour. It is an oversimplification to say that culture has but a simple influence on the non-verbal behaviour. Culture does profoundly affect our non-verbal behaviour or body language. Samovar and Porter in Communication Between Cultures go beyond this to say that “a culture’s non-verbal language can be as unique as its verbal” (166). Our daily non-verbal behaviours are culturally based and every culture along its individuals’ enculturation process shapes, in one way or another, its members’ non-verbal behaviours. Individuals or members of a community come to learn the preponderance of their kinesic behaviour along their conscious and unconscious learning of culture. In Communication Between Cultures it is clearly argued that “Culture is invisible, omnipresent, and learned, non-verbal communication has the same qualities [â€¦] culture is all-pervasive, multidimensional and boundless; it is everywhere and in everything” (Samovar and Porter 170). Culture is described as being everywhere and in everything; it is also invisible, omnipresent, learned, all-pervasive, multidimensional and boundless. All these descriptions denote that culture has an all-embracing aspect. The cultural contribution over the non-verbal behaviour is undeniable. Yet, there are other non-verbal behaviours that seem to be universal. Facial expressions like happiness, sadness, fear, surprise are present in every culture. Facial expressions profoundly affect our communication. Yet, Cultures differ in relating to facial expressions, Asians, for example, tend to keep their personal feelings secret as opposed to Arabs who can be plainly seen crying. Smiling is a universal non-verbal behaviour that may have different interpretations depending on the culture in which it is acted out. The same as it can be a sign of happiness in one culture; it can be a way of hiding one’s feelings or avoiding to answer to certain embarrassing questions.
Eye contact is highly important in maintaining and promoting relationships. People can send infinite messages through their eyes. In Eastern cultures, people value eye contact and think of it as primordial in their interpersonal communication. In other cultures like the Asian ones, maintaining eye contact for a considerable amount of time when interacting is seen as sign of rudeness or impoliteness.
Children come to learn their culture’s non-verbal system through the whole process of their enculturation or socialization. They firstly notice how their parents do exchange ideas and communicate non-verbally between each other trying later on to imitate their non-verbal system unconsciously getting a whole set of culturally bound body movement and gestures. Children who grew up in countries other than their native ones are observed to develop non-verbal systems utterly different from the one of theirs. They, consequently, behave in a different manner for they have been socialized and encultured with a different society and culture. At the same level and as we may observe, children get the bulk of our social and cultural norms non-verbally. Samovar and Porter write “most of culture is automatic and subconscious” (Communication Between Cultures, 33). Through this process, they come to get the preponderance of their culture’s non-verbal system.
Examples of cultural dissimilarities in human kinesic behaviour are numerous and uncounted. This clearly reveals how culture impacts our kinesic behaviour generation and our perception of it.
Proximics examines space and time communication
Space and time can alter our communication
Developed by the U.S anthropologist Edward T. Hall, the study of Proximics concerns the use of both space and time for purposes of communication. The concept might be somewhat dim and unnoticeable in the communication process. Two ordinary people, for instance, can be part of a conversation without being aware and conscious about their involvement in culturally based proximic behaviours. The fact that they are sitting side by side, talking face to face, arranging their home furniture in a particular form, discussing for a considerable amount of time or just for few minutes is rarely observed as a distinct non-verbal communication situation. Through various situations people can unconsciously convey messages to others by the distance they hold in a conversation or by the time they do allot to a certain matter discussion.
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Human relationships as being intimate or independent are relatively significant factors that indicate and determine the space hold by partners in a communication situation. One cannot bear conversing with one of his intimate friends or family members if they stand afar from each other as they should be conventionally nearer. Strangers, however, who are not familiar with each other, cannot closely approach when they communicate. They are not to hold the same space as two intimate friends, couples or relatives may do since they share an independent tendency toward one another. They still are not involved with each other. People’s use of space in their communication may vary according to the culture those people belong to. As aforementioned, culture has an all-embracing aspect. It is omnipresent and all pervasive. It denotes the space hold by individuals in a communication situation. Consider Arabs and westerners as a case in point, Arabs approach each other when they converse and rank that a normal behaviour. The same distance for a westerner in a conversation will be embarrassing and not usual.
Today, people communicate with each other using modern electronic means of communication when they are in extremely distanced countries. People might be hundreds of miles far from each other holding tight relationships thanks to modern technologies. The presence of space in this context is not highly important since it is an inherent feature of communicating through these mediums. Individuals who communicate using internet, telephone or satellite facilities know pretty well that there is space between their partners. Much of the factors that shape and determine the non-verbal proximic behaviour are not of influential contribution to the process of communication held by means of new technologies that facilitates communication from afar. Individuals are not to convey messages using the proximic behaviour of space when they intercommunicate through chat rooms, phones or satellites.
Time usage is another noteworthy proximic non-verbal behaviour. Beside space, the use of time can be of major significance to the process of communication. Time allotment for a certain subject to be discussed or to a certain problem to be solved would tell whether this subject or problem is of major or minor importance. In particular, when you end a conversation in few minutes without completing the subject of discussion, your communication partner might understand that you may not be in your mood, you do not want to pursue or develop the discussion further, you do not appreciate him, his ideas or he may think other things you cannot know simply because of the time you have allotted to communicate with him. Therefore, time is crucial as a proximic non-verbal behaviour.
Factors that shape the concept of time are several and different. Time usage can be regulated by factors such as the individual’s personal relationships. When you allot an important amount of time to discuss with someone, this might mean that this person counts for you, he might be one of your intimate friends or relatives. Human relationships do affect the concept of time. Another worth noting factor is everyday personal life occupations or what Ron Scollon and Suzanne Wong Scollon prefer to call time urgency. (Intercultural Communication, 159) The two writers deal with the concept of time from a different angle. They write time urgency or hurry sickness “is a syndrome of behavior in which the person continually tries to accomplish more than can be humanly accomplished” (159). The amount of time allotment in doing something or discussing something with someone is profoundly affected by people’s everyday occupations. Scollon and Scollon relate the aspect of time urgency with culture. They argue “this sense of time urgency is no longer a cultural characteristic of just this one generation (American males). It is a characteristic of the Asian ‘salary man’ and is spreading throughout the world rapidly” (159) those people who adopt this aspect of time urgency often see other people who adopt opposed views as conservatives, uncooperative or opposing progress (160). People differ and vary in this context taking into consideration the culture they belong to.
Cultures shape our perception and use of time and space.
Culture and the non-verbal proximic behaviour do really have an interaction. Culture is always that set of beliefs and values that inherently shape and determine our behaviours in using both time and space for purposes of communication. Culture allows us as well to understand what other people would communicate to us by holding a certain space or allotting a certain amount of time for a communication situation. Individualism is an inherent characteristic of western cultures. German people, for instance, do not demand proximate spaces in their daily interaction. Eastern societies, in contrast, place high premium on being collectivist. Consider the space hold by two individuals in a simple conversation. In an eastern context, a somewhat far disposition for the two individuals is culturally abnormal and unusual since they are accustomed of being near to each other when conversing so as to reach a better communication. The same space for an American, a British or a Swedish is normal and usual. It is embarrassing, in a western context, to hold adjacent positions standing much closer and nearer to the person in a discussion or conversation. Closely connected to this, Edward T. Hall, when referring to the contribution of culture on the aspect of space, argues “each person has a ‘bubble’ of space in which he or she moves and in which he or she feels comfortable. Intrusions into that space are acceptable only under circumstances of intimate contact. Outside of that space is a second ‘bubble’ of space in which normal interpersonal contacts take place. Then outside of that is a third ‘bubble’ of public space” (Intercultural communication, 185). These “bubbles” are spaces that individuals in a certain culture hold when communicating with different people ranging from intimate, familiar to unknown. It is culture that shapes these spaces and these “bubbles” are aspects of culture. Cultures transfer these meanings through a variety of channels such as proverbs, folktales, myths and legends.
Culture does even affect our home furniture arrangement. To take an example, Americans arrange most of their furniture to be TV centred. They point their sofas toward television sets. Distinctly, Collectivist societies organize their furniture to agree with their sitting habits. Arabs, for example, value talking and conversing rather than praising silence like Asians which results in a furniture arrangement convenient to their way of thinking that promotes their family interaction.
The concept of time urgency abovementioned is an aspect of culture as well, an overall view of different cultures would tell that people belonging to these cultures differ in their views toward time urgency. Some cultures urge their members to take advantage of time and call for no time wasting when other cultures undermine hurry and advice being conscious, deliberate and careful in behaving and taking actions they are to do.
Cultures are different in their perception of future. Arabs, Asians or nations who have histories dating centuries are said to be past-oriented (Communication Between Cultures, 189). Arabs openly show their pride of their history. It reveals their real success. Americans, however, do not relate to their history. Their culture is said to be future-oriented. They plan for their future and promote change.
In general terms, Non-verbal communication arguably and allegedly has a close connection to culture. In trying to see a difference between communication in general and culture, some researchers have reported that communication is culture and culture is communication. They could not see an apparent and clear distinction between the two aspects. Culture could not have been developed without communication and communication could not have existed without culture. The two aspects are also indispensable for human existence. The non-verbal system developed by a certain culture is also a significant aspect of culture that helps attaining effective communication.
Most people do not give much attention to their non-verbal behaviours as they are within the frontiers of their own culture. Problems of non-verbal communication do occur when individuals who belong to a certain culture confront and try to communicate with other individuals belonging to other cultures. By way of illustration, an Arab in a western country would use some gestures, signs or may hold a space in discussions which would be strange and odd for a westerner. To exemplify further, Americans use a sign pointing their middle finger up trying to communicate something agreed on. This specific sign is unknown and can not be understood when used in another culture like the Arab one. Thus, the need to be culturally sensitive in our communication is of great significance. We should bear in mind that there are cultural differences that shape and impact the non-verbal behaviour. Avoiding cultural miscommunication and misunderstanding and promoting intercultural effective communication can not be attained without understanding and accepting other cultures with all the embedded aspects, values, beliefs that lie beneath it. Communication with others ought to be endowed with all forms of acceptance and tolerance. Stereotyping and prejudging often taint any human interaction. Another thing we should bare in mind is that a good communicator is always that one who accepts differences and diversity and view them as normal.
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