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West University of Timisoara

Faculty of Economics and Business Administration

Non-verbal communication.

Isabelle Maria, MGM

Timisoara, 2015


1. What is Non-verbal Communication?

2. Why is Non-verbal Communication Important?
3. Cultural Differences in Non-verbal Communication
4. Non-verbal Communication and the First Impression
5. Conclusion
6. Bibliography


Actions speak louder than words.

Communication is the transfer of information from one person to another person. We spend most
of our time in communicating with others that is nearly 75%. But we forget that we are mostly
observed by our non-verbal communications (body movement, eye contact, facial expression,
gusters, postures).
The term nonverbal communication was introduced in the twentieth century by psychiatrist
Jurgen Ruesch and author Weldon Kees in the book Nonverbal Communication: Notes on
theVisual Perception of Human Relations, 1956.
Definitions of Non-Verbal Communication

It refers to the transfer of meaning by body language, space, time and paralanguage.
It is the transmission of message by some medium other than speech or writing.
A medium for communication that entails using cues via body language to convey
message content. Facial expressions, body gestures, and voice intonation are forms of
non-verbal communication.

Essential of non-verbal communication skills:

1. Non-verbal communication is less structured than verbal communication
2. Non-verbal communication is unplanned.
3. Non-verbal communication is intent and spontaneous.
4. Non-verbal communication blends with speech.

1. What is Non-verbal Communication?

Non-verbal communication is the process of communication through sending and receiving

wordless (mostly visual) cues between people. It is sometimes mistakenly referred to as body
language (kinesics), but non-verbal communication encompasses much more, such as use of
voice (paralanguage), touch (haptics), distance (proxemics), and physical environments /
Even speech contains non-verbal elements known as paralanguage, including voice quality, rate,
pitch, volume, and speaking style, as well as prosodic features such as rhythm, intonation,
and stress. Likewise, written texts have non-verbal elements such as handwriting style, spatial
arrangement of words, or the physical layout of a page. However, much of the study of nonverbal communication has focused on interaction between individuals, where it can be classified
into three principal areas: environmental conditions where communication takes place, physical
characteristics of the communicators, and behaviors of communicators during interaction.
Non-verbal communication involves the processes of encoding and decoding. Encoding is the act
of generating the information such as facial expressions, gestures, and postures. Decoding is the
interpretation of information from received sensations from previous experiences.
Culture plays an important role in nonverbal communication, and it is one aspect that helps to
influence how learning activities are organized. In many Indigenous American Communities, for
example, there is often an emphasis on nonverbal communication, which acts as a valued means
by which children learn.

2. Why is Non-verbal Communication Important?

Non-verbal communication represents two-thirds of all communication. Non-verbal

communication can portray a message both vocally and with the correct body signals. Body
signals comprise physical features, conscious and unconscious gestures and signals, and the
mediation of personal space. The wrong message can be established if the body language
conveyed does not match a verbal message.
Basically, it is one of the key aspects of communication (and especially important in a highcontext culture). It has multiple functions:

Used to repeat the verbal message (e.g. point in a direction while stating directions.)
Often used to accent a verbal message. (e.g. verbal tone indicates the actual meaning of

the specific words).

Often complement the verbal message but also may contradict. E.g.: a nod reinforces a

positive message (among Americans); a wink may contradict a stated positive message.
Regulate interactions (non-verbal cues covey when the other person should speak or not

May substitute for the verbal message (especially if it is blocked by noise, interruption,
etc) i.e. gestures (finger to lips to indicate need for quiet), facial expressions (i.e. a nod
instead of a yes).

Note the implications of the proverb: Actions speak louder than words. In essence, this
underscores the importance of non-verbal communication. Non-verbal communication is
especially significant in intercultural situations. Probably non-verbal differences account for
typical difficulties in communicating.

3. Cultural Differences in Non-verbal Communication

A. Posture
There are many different types of body positioning to portray certain postures. The posture or
bodily stance exhibited by individuals communicates a variety of messages whether good or bad.
Posture can be used to determine a participant's degree of attention or involvement, the
difference in status between communicators, and the level of fondness a person has for the other
communicator, depending on body "openness".
Consider the following actions and note cultural differences:

Bowing (not done, criticized, or affected in US; shows rank in Japan)

Slouching (rude in most Northern European areas)
Hands in pocket (disrespectful in Turkey)
Sitting with legs crossed (offensive in Ghana, Turkey)
Showing soles of feet. (Offensive in Thailand, Saudi Arabia)

B. Clothing
Clothing is one of the most common forms of non-verbal communication. The study of clothing
and other objects as a means of non-verbal communication is known as artifactics or objectics.
The types of clothing that an individual wears conveys non-verbal cues about his or her
personality, background and financial status, and how others will respond to them. An
individual's clothing style can demonstrate their culture, mood, level of confidence, interests,
age, authority, and values/beliefs. For instance, Jewish men may wear yamakas to outwardly
communicate their religious belief. Similarly, clothing can communicate what nationality a
person or group is, for example, in traditional festivities Scottish men often wear kilts to specify
their culture.
The way one chooses to dress tells a lot about ones personality. In fact, there was a study done at
the University of North Carolina, which compared the way undergraduate women chose to dress
and their personality types. The study showed that women who dressed primarily for comfort
and practicality were more self-controlled, dependable, and socially well adjusted (Sarasota
Journal 38). Women who didnt like to stand out in a crowd had typically more conservative

and traditional views and beliefs. Clothing, although non-verbal, tells people what your
personality is like. The way a person dresses is typically rooted from deeper internal motivations
such as emotions, experiences and culture (Forbes). Clothing expresses who you are, or even,
who you want to be that day. It shows people who you want to be associated with, and where you
fit in. Clothing can start relationships, because youre cluing other people in on what you are like
(Sarasota Journal 38).
All cultures are concerned for how they look and make judgements based on looks and dress.
Americans, for instance, appear almost obsessed with dress and personal attractiveness.
Consider differing cultural standards on what is attractive in dress and on what constitutes

C. Gestures
Impossible to catalog them all. But need to recognize: 1) incredible possibility and variety and
2) that an acceptable in ones own culture may be offensive in another. In addition, amount of
gesturing varies from culture to culture. Some cultures are animated; other restrained.
Restrained cultures often feel animated cultures lack manners and overall restraint. Animated
cultures often feel restrained cultures lack emotion or interest.
Even simple things like using hands to point and count differ.
Pointing : US with index finger; Germany with little finger; Japanese with entire hand (in fact
most Asians consider pointing with index finger to be rude)
Counting: Thumb = 1 in Germany, 5 in Japan, middle finger for 1 in Indonesia.
Gestures may be made with the hands, arms or body, and also include movements of the head,
face and eyes, such as winking, nodding, or rolling one's eyes. Although the study of gesture is
still in its infancy, some broad categories of gestures have been identified by researchers. The
most familiar are the so-called emblems or quotable gestures. These are conventional, culturespecific gestures that can be used as replacement for words, such as the hand wave used in
western cultures for "hello" and "goodbye." A single emblematic gesture can have a very

different significance in different cultural contexts, ranging from complimentary to highly

Exemples of emblematic gestures:

Ok or Okay, made by connecting the thumb and forefinger in a circle and holding the

other fingers straight, may signal the word okay. It is considered obscene in Brazil.
V sign or Victory hand is made by raising the index and middle fingers and separating
them to form a V, usually with the palm facing outwards. This sign began to be used
during World War II to indicate "V for Victory". In the 1960s, the hippiemovement began to use the V-sign to mean "peace", especially in the United States. It is
also used in most coastal east Asian nations, in either orientation, as an indication of
cuteness when being photographed. Examples are China, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and

V sign as an insult is made by raising the index finger and middle finger separated to
form a V with the back of the hand facing outwards. This is an offensive gesture in
theUnited Kingdom, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand and Ireland.

D. Distance and personal distance

Personal space refers to that space legitimately claimed or occupied by a person for the time
being. Close friends are literally closer in the sense that you permit them to be in closer
proximity than you do other people. You generally tend to stand closer to the people you like. In
fact, if you look around, you can tell whether people are friends or strangers according to the
amount of space between them.
All of us have a body buffer zone, a kind of imaginary aura around us that we regard as part of
ourselves. People differ in the size of their body buffer zone, and if you step into the body buffer
zone that someone feels is their space, even if it is beyond what you would normally expect,
you may be in for trouble. Your friends and family can enter your body buffer zone more freely
than other people. You react to space and its use depending on the kind of situation in which you
find yourself.

People from Latino and Arab cultures require less space for each of these types of encounters
than do Northern Europeans and North Americans.
According to Edward T.Hall,the amount of space we maintain between ourselves and the persons
with whom we are communicating shows the importance of the science of proximics.In this
process,it is seen how we feel towards the others at that particular time .Within American culture
Hall defines four primary distance zones :(i) intimate ( touching to eighteen inches ) distance,
(ii)Personal (eighteen inches to four feet) distance, (iii) Social(four to twelve feet ) distance, and
(iv) Public (more than twelve feet) distance.Intimate distance is considered appropriate for
familiar relationships and indicates closeness and trust. Personal distance is still close but keeps
another "at arm's length" the most comfortable distance for most of our interpersonal
contact,social distance is used for the kind of communication that occurs in business
relationships and, sometimes, in the classroom. Public distance occurs in situations where twoway communication is not desirable or possible.

E. Eye contact
Eye contact is the instance when two people look at each other's eyes at the same time; it is the
primary non-verbal way of indicating engagement, interest, attention and involvement. Studies
have found that people use their eyes to indicate interest. This includes frequently recognized
actions of winking and movements of the eyebrows. Disinterest is highly noticeable when little
or no eye contact is made in a social setting. When an individual is interested however, the pupils
will dilate.
According to Eckman, "Eye contact (also called mutual gaze) is another major channel of nonverbal communication. The duration of eye contact is its most meaningful aspect." Generally
speaking, the longer there is established eye contact between two people, the greater
the intimacy levels. Gaze comprises the actions of looking while talking and listening. The
length of a gaze, the frequency of glances, patterns of fixation, pupil dilation, and blink rate are
all important cues in non-verbal communication.

In USA, eye contact indicates: degree of attention or interest, influences attitude change or
persuasion, regulates interaction, communicates emotion, defines power and status, and has a
central role in managing impressions of others.

Western cultures see direct eye to eye contact as positive (advise children to look a
person in the eyes). But within USA, African-Americans use more eye contact when
talking and less when listening with reverse true for Anglo Americans. This is a possible
cause for some sense of unease between races in US. A prolonged gaze is often seen as a
sign of sexual interest.

Arabic cultures make prolonged eye-contact. believe it shows interest and helps them
understand truthfulness of the other person. (A person who doesnt reciprocate is seen as

Japan, Africa, Latin American, Caribbean avoid eye contact to show respect.

F. Touching
Haptics is the study of touching as nonverbal communication, and haptic communication refers
to how people and other animals communicate via touching.
Touches among humans that can be defined as communication include handshakes, holding
hands, kissing (cheek, lips, hand), back slapping, high fives, a pat on the shoulder, and brushing
an arm. Touching of oneself may include licking, picking, holding, and scratching. These
behaviors are referred to as "adapters" or "tells" and may send messages that reveal the intentions
or feelings of a communicator and a listener. The meaning conveyed from touch is highly
dependent upon the culture, the context of the situation, the relationship between communicators,
and the manner of touch.
Touching is treated differently from one country to another and socially acceptable levels of
touching vary from one culture to another (Remland, 2009). In Thai culture, for example,

touching someone's head may be thought rude. Remland and Jones (1995) studied groups of
people communicating and found that touching was rare among the English (8%), the French
(5%) and the Dutch (4%) compared to Italians (14%) and Greeks (12.5%).
Question: Why do we touch, where do we touch, and what meanings do we assign when
someone else touches us?

Illustration: An African-American male goes into a convenience store

recently taken over by new Korean immigrants. He gives a $20 bill for his
purchase to Mrs Cho who is cashier and waits for his change. He is upset
when his change is put down on the counter in front of him.
What is the problem? Traditional Korean (and many other Asian
countries) dont touch strangers., especially between members of the
opposite sex. But the African-American sees this as another example of
discrimination (not touching him because he is black).
Basic answer: Touch is culturally determined! But each culture has a
clear concept of what parts of the body one may not touch. Basic message
of touch is to affect or control protect, support, disapprove (i.e. hug,
kiss, hit, kick).

USA handshake is common (even for strangers), hugs, kisses for those of opposite
gender or of family (usually) on an increasingly more intimate basis. Note differences
between African-Americans and Anglos in USA. Most African Americans touch on

greeting but are annoyed if touched on the head (good boy, good girl overtones).
Islamic and Hindu: typically dont touch with the left hand. To do so is a social insult.
Left hand is for toilet functions. Mannerly in India to break your bread only with your

right hand (sometimes difficult for non-Indians)

Islamic cultures generally dont approve of any touching between genders (even hand
shakes). But consider such touching (including hand holding, hugs) between same-sex to
be appropriate.

Many Asians dont touch the head (Head houses the soul and a touch puts it in jeopardy).
Basic patterns: Cultures (English , German, Scandinavian, Chinese, Japanese)
with high emotional restraint concepts have little public touch; those which
encourage emotion (Latino, Middle-East, Jewish) accept frequent touches.

4. Non-verbal Communication and the First Impression

Non-verbal communication is the study of communication without words. Our actions are the
means of communication, subject to interpretation by others. Even the failure to act is a way of
communicating. Today when we interact with others, we continuously give and receive wordless
signals. All of our non-verbal behaviors the gestures we make, the way we sit, how fast or how
loud we talk, how close we stand, how much eye contact we make send strong messages. These
messages don't stop when you stop speaking either. Even when you're silent, you're still
communicating nonverbally. Facial expressions, body movements, eye contact,vocal qualities all
help us to communicate without words. These silent messages communicate our feelings during
any form of interpersonal communication that we have with our friends, teachers, seniors,
subordinates or colleagues.
In psychology, a first impression is the event when one person first encounters another person
and forms a mental image of that person. Research shows it takes 4 minutes to make a first
According to studies by UCLA professor Albert Mehrabian, body language accounts for 55% of
a first impression; 38% comes from tone of voice; 7% comes from our actual words.

'First Impression' always has been in talks of people. Catch phrases like 'First impression is the
last impression.', 'You never get second chance to make good impression.' and 'First impression
lasts longer.' are very popular. Appearing in front of somebody at very first time is all about
making an ( long lasting ) impression on its mind.
Most of us always seek opportunities to impress others positively because it has an enormous
importance especially for employment, business and coutship. However, most of us mistakenly
equate positive impression with good appearance or 'looks' only. It's not the whole truth.
Our brain derives an impression based upon person's physical attributes and its body language,
eye contact, facial expressions, way of approaching, interpersonal space ( distance between the
person and ourselves), body posture, body movements, style of walking, speech and the most
important - hygiene and tidiness. On the basis of same, we instantly rate the person as Likable
(Positive), Okay / So-So (Neutral) or Not Likable (Negative).

5. Conclusion

Non-verbal communication plays an important role in how we convey meaning and information
to others, as well as how we interpret the actions of those around us. The important thing to
remember when looking at such nonverbal behaviors is to consider the actions in groups. What a
person actually says along with his or her expressions, appearance, and tone of voice might tell
you a great deal about what that person is really trying to say.
The most important thing in communication is hearing what isnt said. ( Peter F. Drucker )

6. Bibliography

3. Latha, M. (2014). First Impressions: A Study of Non-Verbal Communication., Frontiers of Language and
Teaching , 5(1), 160-163.