Running head: LISTENING TO WHAT WE DO, NOT WHAT WE SAY
LISTENING TO WHAT WE DO, NOT WHAT WE SAY
Listening to What We Do, Not what We Say:
Culture and Nonverbal Behavior
We might be living in a global world but nonverbal communication in different cultures shows such drastic differences that might present the feeling that we are from different planets. No matter where we are, it seems, we must remember that our bodies are always saying something, even when not speaking. More than half of all information communicated in conversation is done so in nonverbal form. (Elkins, 2015). Nonverbal communication plays many important roles in intercultural situations. As messages delivered within the verbal channel convey the literal and content meanings of words, the nonverbal channel is relied upon to carry the undercurrent of identity ties and relational meaning. Occurring with or without verbal communication, nonverbal cues provide the context for interpreting and understanding how the verbal message should be understood. As such, they can create either clarity or confusion. Usually, however, they can create intercultural friction and misunderstandings for three main reasons. A single nonverbal cue can have different meanings and interpretations in different cultures. Second, multiple nonverbal cues are sent simultaneously; and third, a high degree of display rules need to be considered, such as variations in gender, personality, relational distance, socioeconomic status, and the situation.
As a species, we have been relying on our non-verbal channels to send and receive messages for longer than the evolution of our languages. Although our cultures commit us to different ways of expressing ourselves without words, we are much more similar than we might think. We may think that nonverbal communication is universal, but it's not. Every culture interprets body language, gestures, posture and carriage, vocal noises and degree of eye contact differently. In the Middle East, nodding the head down indicates agreement, while nodding it up is a sign of disagreement; in Japan, an up-and-down nod might just be a signal that someone is listening the thumbs-up signal is vulgar in Iran. The "OK" signal made by forming a circle with the thumb and forefinger refers to money in some countries, while in others it's an extremely offensive reference to a private body part. Point with the wrong finger, or with anything less than your entire hand, and you risk offending somebody, and while some cultures value eye contact as a sign of respect, averting your eyes may be the sign of respect in others, the list goes on and on (Elkins, 2015). Types of nonverbal communication vary based on culture and country of origin. Although nonverbal communication is a universal phenomenon, meanings of nonverbal cues are not, in fact, universal. They vary tremendously across cultures and are often ambiguous.
To further understand the nuances of nonverbal communication across cultures, it is...