Verbal and Non-verbal Communication across Cultures

A communication style is the way people communicate with others, verbally and nonverbally. It combines both language and nonverbal cues and is the meta-message that dictates how listeners receive and interpret verbal messages. Of the theoretical perspectives proposed to understand cultural variations in communication styles, the most widely cited one is the differentiation between high-context and low-context communication by Edward Hall, in 1976. Low-context communication is used predominantly in individualistic cultures and reflects an analytical thinking style, where most of the attention is given to specific, focal objects independent of the surrounding environment; high-context communication is used predominantly in collectivistic cultures and reflects a holistic thinking style, where the larger context is taken into consideration when evaluating an action or event. In low-context communication, most of the meaning is conveyed in the explicit verbal code, whereas in high-context communication, most of the information is either in the physical context or internalized in the person, with very little information given in the coded, explicit, transmitted part of the message.

Verbal Communication

The Verbal Communication is a type of oral communication wherein the message is transmitted through the spoken words. Here the sender gives words to his feelings, thoughts, ideas and opinions and expresses them in the form of speeches, discussions, presentations, and conversations.

The effectiveness of the verbal communication depends on the tone of the speaker, clarity of speech, volume, speed, body language and the quality of words used in the conversation. In the case of the verbal communication, the feedback is immediate since there are a simultaneous transmission and receipt of the message by the sender and receiver respectively.

The sender must keep his speech tone high and clearly audible to all and must design the subject matter keeping the target audience in mind. The sender should always cross check with the receiver to ensure that the message is understood in absolutely the same way as it was intended. Such communication is more prone to errors as sometimes the words are not sufficient to express the feelings and emotions of a person.

The success of the verbal communication depends not only on the speaking ability of an individual but also on the listening skills. How effectively an individual listens to the subject matter decides the effectiveness of the communication. The verbal communication is applicable in both the formal and informal kind of situations.

Non-verbal Communication across Cultures

Non-verbal communication is communication that occurs without words which is continuous. It is body language and environmental context involved in any communication. It is not what is said with words but how it is said and expressed. There are many types of non-verbal communications like eye contact, hand movements, facial expressions, touch, gestures, etc.

Non-verbal communication is different from person to person and especially from one culture to another. Cultural background defines their non-verbal communication as many forms of non-verbal communications like signs and signals are learned behavior.

Some of the nonverbal communication differences in different cultural are:

(i) Eye Contact

Western cultures mostly consider eye contact to be a good gesture. It shows attentiveness, confidence and honesty. Other cultures such as Asian, Middle Eastern, Hispanic and Native American do not take it as a good expression. It is taken as a rude and offensive expression.

Unlike in Western cultures taking it as respectful, other do not consider it that way. In Eastern cultures women should especially not have eye contact with men as it shows power or sexual interest. In some cultures, whereas, gazes are taken as a way of expression. Staring is taken as rude in most cultures.

(ii) Gestures

Gestures such as thumbs up can be interpreted differently in different cultures. It is taken as “Okay” sign in many cultures whereas is taken as a vulgarism in others like Latin American cultures and in Japan some even take it as money.

(iii) Touch

Touches are taken as rudeness in most cultures. Shaking hands is considered to be acceptable in many. Similarly, acceptability of kissing, hugs, and many other touches are different in different cultures. People in Asia are more conservative in these types of non-verbal communication.

(iv) Appearance

Appearance is another form of non-verbal communication. People are judged from their appearance. Racial differences as well as differences in clothing tell so much about any individual.

Grooming yourself to look good is taken as an important aspect of personality in most cultures. But, what is considered to be a good appearance is different again in different cultures. Modesty is also measured from appearance.

(v) Body Movement and Posture

People receive information or message from body movements. It shows how people feel or think about you. If a person does not face you while talking to you can mean that the person is nervous or shy. It might also mean that the person doesn’t like to talk to you. Other body movements like coming to sit near or far can also show confidence, power or trying to control the environment.

(vi) Facial Expressions

Face shows feelings, attitudes and emotions. The degree of facial expressions are determined by cultures. People from United States show emotions more than their Asian counterparts.

Facial expressions are shown to be similar all over the world, but people from different cultures do not show it in public. The meanings of these are commonly acknowledged everywhere. Too much expression is taken to be shallow in some places whereas in some it is taken as being weak.

(vii) Paralanguage

How we talk also constitutes of what we communicate. For example, vocal tones, volume, rhythm, pitch, etc. speak more than what words express. Asian people control themselves from shouting as they are taught not to from childhood.

They are known as vocal qualifiers. Vocal characterizations like crying, whining, yelling, etc. change the meaning of the message. Giggling is taken as a bad gesture in some cultures. Many other emotions are shown by vocal differences while all of them are included in paralanguage.

(viii) Physical Space (Proxemics)

People from different cultures have different tolerance for physical distance between people. In Middle Eastern culture people like to go near to others to talk while in others people might get afraid if anybody does so.

Even Europeans and Americans do not have that much acceptance on the breach of physical distance and less acceptance for it among Asians. People have specific personal space which they do not want intruded. In some cultures, even close physical contact between strangers is acceptable.

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