Verbal and Non-Verbal Communication among Cultures
Influence of Culture on Verbal and Non-Verbal Communication
Language is often an immediate barrier to communicating with others of different cultures (Cox 2012). Even those who speak the same language may find problems with communication because of differences in culture. The differences very often lie in communication styles, either verbal or non-verbal or both. These styles may be in the form of facial expression, context, eye contact, formality and touch (Cox).
Every culture uses certain types of facial expression to convey a message in addition to formal language (Cox 2012). Americans smile to express or recognize friendliness towards or in others of a different culture. However, the Japanese do not smile at strangers. They view smiling as inappropriate for those who are not known to them. Women are especially expected to refrain from smiling at strangers. A communication style may hinge on context. In a high context culture, people assume that others of different cultures do not understand what is being said to them and need to have everything explained. In contrast, those in a low context culture assume that others of another culture already understand what is being said and omit the explanation. Eye contact is another style. Looking straight at the foreigner's eye conveys interest and attentiveness to what he has to say. Eye contact reflects honesty and avoiding eye contact means dishonesty or suspiciousness. In other culture, looking in the eye is insulting or an aggressive act. People of this culture only glance at the speaker occasionally to show interest and attention. Formality is also shown in communication. In a culture that is fundamentally informal, everyone is viewed as equal to everyone else. They speak alike to everyone. In a formal culture, people speak a certain way to others according to protocol. And touch or contact is another style. Those in contact cultures expect to be touched when they speak or stand close to another person. In non-contact cultures, touching is considered forward, improper and aggressive. They seldom stand close to others and seldom touch (Cox).
Cultural Gaps and Differences in Communication
It pays to know and understand these cross-cultural differences and gaps in insuring that the message being put across is understood (Sarfin 2012). These may be in the form of volume, the right words to use, body language, and gestures in addition to eye contact (Sarfin).
Canadians and Japanese normally converse in low tone and volume (Sarfin 2012). The people of Latin America, in contrast, often talk loud as a matter of habit and not because they are angry or quarreling. The correct choice of words can save a relationship or lose it. Furthermore, a person of another culture may put a lot of importance in his personal title. If this title is ignored or made light of, the owner can get offended. Peoples of different cultures largely vary in their respective gestures. Forming a thumb with the thumb and forefinger with the other three fingers held up straight by Americans means that they are fine. People of other cultures consider this vulgar, however (Sarfin).
One may have the best intention or message for another person of another culture (Button 2012). But miscommunication can lead to misinterpretation and produce another or the opposite, undesired effect. Misinterpretation can offend superiors, prevent a business deal or destroy good relationships. People of different cultures may also construe something un-intended because of contradictory and un-meant verbal or non-verbal signals. Verbal and non-verbal communication between cultures is often open to misinterpretation because of ambiguity, cultural differences and mixed messages (Button).
Words with more than one meaning have been a basis for misinterpretation in verbal
communication when used out of context (Button 2012). Some words can have more than one meaning and people can choose one meaning instead of another. Saying that a man "makes a lot" can mean he creates a lot of things and earns a lot from them; creates a lot but earns nothing; or earns much from passive investments. The ambiguous word "make" can be taken to mean all these interpretations. The use of vague or inexact words can make the misinterpretation problem worse. Cultural differences simply add to the misinterpretation pain. There are enough pitfalls in verbal communication. In the realm of non-verbal communication, gestures can also be misinterpreted. Bowing low is perceived by Western peoples as low self-confidence, but the Japanese read it as a sign of respect (Button).
The right word may be used but if a gesture of body language says something else, the person is sending a mixed message (Button 2012). If one person says he wants to meet the other person again but crosses his arms and avoids eye contact as he says it, the other person of another culture may doubt his sincerity. Non-verbal signals may and often do contradict one another. Crossing the arms implies defensiveness while a smile suggests friendliness. These are mixed messages. Social awkwardness is another problem that can get misinterpreted. When one speaks in monotones or without the appropriate tone or body language, the other person may find it difficult to perceive any communication at all. Social awkwardness also leads people to go through extreme social anxiety. They end up speaking too softly. Those who have Asperger's syndrome find it hard to convey a message verbally or non-verbally. Emotional conflict is still another ground for misinterpretation. One tends to be too watchful and sensitive for the slightest indication of insults and opposition. He may perceive too much from otherwise neutral body language in expecting a hidden meaning from it. Opponents are inclined to misinterpret the slightest hostile sign from one another even when not intended (Button).
Cultural Differences in Expressing Emotions
A study conducted revealed that Asians normally express their emotions more strongly than other races (Fernandez et al. 2000). They also exhibit lower gender differences although cultural masculinity characterizes them best. High-power cultures reserve the expression of their emotional reactions, like good feelings, when these respect and legitimize status. Results of the study suggested that both the verbal and nonverbal expression of emotion was more common among cultures characterized by individualism, femininity, low power distance and high level of uncertainty in the case of sadness. These peoples express their emotions freely or hide their true feelings. This attitude does not mean that they are sacrificing relationships. In contrast, collectivist cultures characterized by high-power distance, masculine and with low certainty avoidance level do not express their feelings as much, whether verbally or non-verbally. Further analysis showed that those enjoying a more developed quality of life, privacy and resources, such as earning, education and life expectancy, go through more intense emotional experiences (Fernandez et al.).
People in high-power distance countries or cultures do not question their leader's decisions (Fernandez et al. 2000). There is no close relationship between leader and follower. The follower expects to be dictated and the leader is expected to earn more and be respected. In contrast, people in low-power distance cultures are considered equal at least virtually. They have fewer leaders. These leaders also assign important tasks to their subordinates and both share the problem in case of failure and problems. Communicating their good feelings is found more among collectivist, high-power distance cultures. They tend to show and express more sympathy, harmony and respect than in low-power cultures. Study participants included Latin American and Asian collectivist respondents. They demonstrated less negative emotions than North American and European peoples but higher positive emotions, like joy. Latin Americans tended to withhold negative emotions while they felt free to express and communicate positive emotions (Fernandez et al.).
The Importance of Non-Verbal Communication
Whoever coined the famous and accepted line, "actions speak louder than words,' saluted to the importance of non-verbal communication (Ciubotaru 2012). This is specifically important in the current global situation. Different cultures interact, often through non-verbal communication and risk misinterpretations. It must first be understood that intercultural non-verbal communication pertains to all conscious or unconscious stimuli beyond the spoken word used in communicating. They comprise a huge 70% of communication material. Because of the equally huge risk of getting misinterpreted, non-verbal messages should be understood as much as verbal messages.
The social and cultural environment then dictates what non-verbal communication system should be applied. The four types are kinesics, proxemics, paralanguage, and chronemics (Ciubatoru).
Kinesics is body language or represents the body movements used in communication (Ciubatoru 2012). These include facial expressions, eye contact, hand gestures and touch. Proxemics refers to the use of space in non-verbal communication, ranging from architecture, furniture and distance between the interacting persons. Paralanguage consists of all the sounds produced by their voices and empty words and phrases. Sounds include laughter, tone and spacing in talking. Empty words include "umm" and "you know." An chronemics pertains to the use of time, such as the speaker's understanding of present, past and future (Ciubatoru).
Kinesics are ritualistic forms of communication, such as nodding when agreeing and greeting others (Ciubatoru 2012). Greeting…