Topic 6:



Importance of nonverbal communication

Martin & Nakayama (2007) discuss the contributions of verbal vs. non-verbal  communication.  They report that both are symbolic, conveying meaning as well as being  patterned or governed by contextual rules.

Non-verbal communication occurs in a cultural space including the environment and location as well as the meaning of the institution in which you are communicating.  Recognition of contexts as well as specific signs or symbols of learned behaviour.

It also involves relational messages, showing status or power, and can be used for deception. We generate stereotypes from expected patterns of behaviour for certain cultural, age or gendered groups. Our behaviour conveys meaning, or semiotics

Non-Verbal Interpersonal Communication within a culture enables:


Non-Verbal Interpersonal Communication within a culture enables:

Defining nonverbal communication: Samovar and Porter give a broad definition:

all nonverbal stimuli in a communicative setting that are generated  (intentionally and unintentionally) by both the source and his/her use of the environment and that have potential message value for the source or the receiver.(2004, p. 169)

Functions of nonverbal communication

Repeating - is one function where we give behavioural gestures to repeat or reinforce the verbal messages that we are making.  Here we might  shake our heads, saying no, out our hands on our hip when indicating that we have had enough or stop our foot when we will no go any further. 

Complementing - behaviours, like those may also be supportive without giving the exact same meaning, like a pat on the back as praise, a smile for support or a furrowed forehead for questioning someone's motives. 

Substituting - also happens where a gesture or behavioural; expression may stand in the place of a verbal statement.  The finger, open arms, cover your ears or roll your eyes. ... 

Regulating - In communication we managed conversation through behaviours, grabbing the door knob or standing up ( to end the conversation), nodding or saying 'unhuh' to keep it going. 

Contradicting - giving mixed or opposing messages through verbal and non-verbal channels.  Sometimes unintentionally (quiver in voice -afraid or squint in eyes lying); and intentionally making a joke through winking or moving elbow to make a note.  

Relationship maintenance & negotiation - non-verbal establishes our relationships with others and works to maintain them. When codes are disrupted relationships statuses can change and vice versa.


Nonverbal Communication: Guidelines and limitations


Nonverbal communication is often ambiguous - we cannot be sure that our message is getting across within our culture, let alone across cultures. Is it the finger or the thumb?  What about the context?  Brush leg or get bumped was it an accident or intentional, in a club, a classroom, back alley, or an ice rink? 

We are more than our culture - so we need to be aware of the local and idiosyncratic behaviours that may not be shared with others.  (i.e., some people are very touchy or have a close personal space) and may not represent their broader culture.   We also need to avoid overstating differences between cultures that not be all that important. 

Nonverbal communication usually paired with verbal- where verbal and contextual cues are present that help us to shape and understand the non-verbal cues we receive. 

Nonverbal communication and culture

A good deal of emotional communication appears to be universal, yet specific rules of expression shape and alter the emotions that we communicate. Smiling, shaking hands, bowing, touching all are constrained by the culture. 

Non-verbal communication has been described as an invisible communication or the silent culture that we experience. 

Classifications of nonverbal communication 


Body behavior (cultural and universal) 

 General appearance and attire - hair, facial hair, eye make-up, teeth, earrings, fingernails, tattoos, general fitness, muscle tone, skin colour, clothes, represent aspect of our general appearance that may communicate something about us to others.  


Images of beauty and looks have been associated with perceptions or personality, intelligence,  trust, employability, liking and attraction.  

Attire or clothing and adornments also give impressions and communicate messages to others whether intentional or not. 

Arab and Muslim cultures often have women covered and prohibit girls from swimming or playing sports where they may show their bodies off. 

European/American business suit and tie convey a message of respect and trust in many contexts, while denim and tie-dyes do not. 

Social Status is conveyed by attire as is connection to a religious or social group (i.e., head covering).

Body movement or kinesics - pertain to how people hold their bodies, stand, walk, or sit.  These can communicate messages of: 1) attitude toward the other person (i.e., leaning forward-relaxed); 2) emotional state (i.e., anxious wiggling in seat); 3) desire to control your environment (i.e., motioning to come closer).

posture - is important to communication i.e. bowing in Japan where status and rank is conveyed (along with respect). 

- Low posture means high respect and lower status person initiates the commencement and must be lower in posture while the completion of the bow is determined by the higher status person.    Equal status-equal bowing. 


Thai-have a similar greeting, the wai-pressing hand together and extending at chest level, where the lower the head comes to the hand the more respect. 

Indian Hindus have the namaskar greeting that looks similar to the wai, where one says nameste or greets brahman in you. 

Sitting or slouching can be seen as rudeness or informality as in Germany - good posture is good character. 

Hands in pockets too can be seen ass disrespectful -Belgium

Orientation of the body - direct (Arab) or indirect (Chinese) in communicating. 
Crossing legs from ankle to knee can be seen as an insult in Saudi Arabia, Singapore or Thailand (sole of foot gesture). 

NA -women tend to hold arms closer and cross legs, while Afro-America gate or sway show status. 

Gestures -  are powerful communicators where rich meanings are conveyed easily. 

    pointing -NA use index finger, Germany use little finger, Japan whole hand palm up. Asians see index finger as being rude. 

    idiosyncratic gestures - Argentina twisting imaginary moustache means "OK" while NA- circle index finger and thumb.  This in Japan means money (okane) and for Arabs along with baring one's teeth means hostility. 

beckoning - calling someone over - USA palm up bend fingers toward oneself, while Korea is palm down, while in Burma moving fingers independently. 

Filipinos nod head while Northern European toss back the head and in Spain stretch arm out and scratch.

Hand gestures

Acceptance or understanding - is denoted by nodding up and down in NA but this may mean I hear you speaking.  In Indian slight shake or circles of head means yes while in NA shaking head means no and in Greece it is tilting head back (or lifting hands to shoulders means NO!). 

Facial expressions- Psychologists and anthropologists have studied emotional expression across cultures to find about six  universal expressions: happiness, sadness, fear, anger, disgust and surprise. Ekman


Cultures, however control the expression of the base emotions through display rules, where males in NA are discouraged from expressing fear or sorrow. 

In Japan this may be masked by smiling, and Koreans and Chinese may also suppress expression, particularly holding back those that might disrupt harmony or cause conflict. 

Smile can show happiness or a friendly greeting but can also mask an emotion one is trying to hide or can indicate that one is shallow or false.  

Eye contact and gaze- Eyes are the focus of attention and meaning in many cultures, (i.e. the evil eye). In NA it has has been suggested that the eyes serve to the following communication functions:
1) attentiveness, interest and arousal;
2) attitude change and persuasion;
3) regulate interaction;
4) communicate emotions;
5) define power and status in relationships;
6) assume a central role in impression management (Leathers  cited in S&P, 2004, p.182). 


Culture regulates eye contact where in NA one is expected to "look someone in the eye" having direct eye to eye contact.  While in Japan or in Native  American cultures one should not look directed at an authority figure, to do so may be rude, disrespectful or threatening. 

This is also the case for Caribbean  Latin American  and African peoples (i.e., Zulus view eyes are organ of aggression. 

In India one's social position determines eye contact, higher castes have more contact. 

In Egypt men and women stranger should not look at each other. 

Prolonged eye contact occurs for Germans and Arabs while American might get uncomfortable from it. In Latin America people may stare at strangers. Hopi and Navajo dislike prolonged stares. 

Sexual interest may be communicated or invoked through eye contact. 

May ignore or turn away from someone who is is  threatening or makes one uncomfortable (i.e., panhandlers or people with disabilities ). 

Touch- is an important and early sense that is used for communication.   Contact comfort is established early in life to lay a foundation for emotional bonding.  Children make use of sensori-motor forms of knowing during the first years of life. 

Touching the head is often taboo or seen as condescending. 

Kissing as a greeting often with an embrace for some cultures, but taboo in others where only hand shaking or no contact is expected.  (i.e., Japanese have no word for kissing & touching is not encouraged.) 

Cultures that tend to have more emotional constraints also tend to have less touching. 

Smell - Can communicate the context or specific person-to-person meaning. Some cultures use smelling ( "Eskimo kissing" or Balinese & Filipino ) as more formal parts of greeting.  Others more subtle about the role that smell plays. 

Paralanguage- elements of speech that convey meaning are of three types: 
        Three kinds of vocalizations:
   -qualifiers (volume pitch, rhythm, tempo, resonance, tone) 
   -characteristics (laughing, crying, yelling, moaning, whining,
                                                 belching, yawning)
   -segregates ('un-huh', 'shh', 'uh', 'oooh', 'mmmh', 'humm')

Additional components that vary across cultural groups: 
    accents - distinctive pronunciation  
    dialects - distinctive grammar and vocabulary


Space and distance or proxemics


Defining Cultural Space

Cultural identity & Space
 neighbourhood, town, region, nation, wilderness

Changing Cultural Space

travel, migration, repatriation

post-modern spaces

internet (Gaming and virtual worlds)......



Personal space - the area around your body that you 'claim' or feel comfort in. When violated you will feel discomfort and will likely want to move or adjust your stance.  Individualists tend to have larger personal spaces while collectivists tend to have smaller personal spaces. 

Seating - NA has expectations of people facing each other at tables sitting opposite or standing side by side.  In China people tend to sit next to each other and  dine at circular tables. 

 In Korea the seat to the right is the honour seat, as in Japan there is a hierarchy to seating with lowest rank near the door, and next highest rank close to the leader.  

NA weddings and restaurants have special seating arrangements too that suggest hierarchy. 

Furniture arrangement - NA furniture pointed at TV, while others have chairs facing each other for conversation. Furniture spread out with lots of space or clustered together with many desks. 



Informal time (tardiness and pace) - expectations for when to arrive and what it means to be late:  NA 5 minutes vs. Indian 1 hour or 2 hours for Italian and maybe not at all for Javanese.  


Pace is how fast things happen and how fast to expect service or action. 

Past, present and future orientations 

- Past-oriented cultures have a strong sense of tradition and custom. 

-Present oriented cultures tend to enjoying and living in the moment

-Future oriented cultures tend to emphasize planning ahead- low tolerance for postponements but more interest in change. 

Chronemics: Monochronic and polychronic classifications


M-time is characteristic of "western" cultures that view time as a fixed linear process  to be scheduled and rationed.  

P-time is characteristic of "collectivist" cultures that have amore holistic view of time where they can interact with many people at once and carryon various activities with interruptions.  

Silence (cross-cultural and co-cultural differences)


This can be difficult to managed in an intercultural setting where expectations of having to fill the silence may be at odds with expectations of having the silence.