Communication is vital in the interaction between people as it supports the comprehension of the intended message and people can internalize a particular message if they are conversant with what is being communicated. There are various facets surrounding communication and Non-verbal communication is one of the ways people convey information. Verbal communication uses words but they fall short of transmitting attitude and meaning but different postures, body movements, or facial expressions communicate crucial messages without the speaker’s knowledge. Moreover, some harmless cues in one culture can infer different information in another. It is fascinating to understand how a person can communicate too little and still be passing a lot of information using non-verbal cues. This paper looks at the cultural differences when expressing emotions, people who do the mouth cover when talking or utilize the elbow touch during handshakes.
Cultural differences when expressing emotions are one of the aspects that define non-verbal communication. For instance, the western culture terms eye contact as a sign of confidence. A person is supposed to display such in places like when facing an interview panel to increase the chances of being considered. On the other hand, the same non-verbal cue is viewed as rude in some parts of the Middle East and Asia (Uono & Hietanen, 2015). Also, there are gender considerations when it comes to eye contact. Many eastern cultures prohibit women from eye contact when communicating with men as it translates to sexual interest or authority. Moreover, the western culture allows touch during a conversation through handshakes while the Asian cultures prefer conservative approaches such as bowing. As such, what some people term as right can be termed as offensive in other countries.
Although most expressions or gestures are universal, different cultures show slight discrepancies. For instance, my interactions with the Japanese have taught me that they maintain a neutral facial expression when communicating bad news as they believe in showing emotions will burden the person. On the other hand, the western culture is okay with people showing fear, anger, or sadness when giving bad news. In addition, different cultures have different interpretations of gestures, an example being the thumps up sign in the western culture. The same sign is viewed as vulgar in Latin America and as a sign of money in Japan. In western culture, looking at your watch during a conversation means that you are in a hurry and about to cut it short. However, the same action is termed rude in the Middle East of the Arabic culture as a person should take time in a conversation and allow it to run its natural course.
Another non-verbal cue I come across is people who cover their mouths when talking. This cue is universal, involves covering the mouth with several fingers or a fist, and it is a subconscious instruction from the brain to contain saying deceitful or unintended words. I have seen it in tense situations when people desire to take back misspoken words after saying something inappropriate. It also shows the speaker is preventing uttering more hurtful words to avoid causing more damage. A video dubbed the Couch Commander captures a hilarious conversation between Joe bidden and Barrack Obama, the then vice-president, and president (The Obama White House, 2016). Bidden jokes about Obama volunteering on a sports team and Obama’s reaction involves placing a finger in his mouth to avoid speaking inappropriate or sarcastic comments.
I have also witnessed people who use the second hand to create a second physical connection. This mostly happens when leaders are meeting other leaders. An example is outgoing president Barrack Obama greeting Donald Trump, the incoming president with an extended elbow touch during their handshake (CBS Mornings, 2017). It should be noted that the Obama-Trump transition was marred with controversies as Trump criticized how Obama handled the Middle East and both had conflicting views on foreign policies. The handshake eases pressure and shows that negotiations ensured a smooth transition after meeting with the president-elect. It means that they had ironed out the organizational issues, and foreign and domestic policies. Moreover, it was a vertical handshake that eliminated any signs of dominance from either party. Thus, a normal handshake gesture can evoke feelings of dominance and negotiations that show the relationship between the individuals.
In summary, non-verbal communication is the unconscious element that a person exhibits in a conversation. There is exists universal non-verbal cues that cut across different cultures but in some instances, some expressions can have different meanings. Cues with different meanings include eye contact which infers confidence in the western culture but rudeness in Asia and the Middle East. Also, the thumps-up sign shows one is okay in western culture but is vulgar in Latin America. Mouth cover shows a person has misspoken or is avoiding speaking inappropriate and unintended words. In addition, the use of a second hand to make a second connection through an elbow touch conveys the aspect of negotiations between two parties. With many differences between various non-verbal cues, there is a need to study a culture and its style of communication to avoid passing the wrong information.
Uono, S., & Hietanen, J. K. (2015). Eye contact perception in the West and East: a cross-cultural study. PloS one, 10(2), e0118094. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0118094.
The Obama White House. (2016, April 30). Couch Commander. [Video]. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OIDEGN4Js40.
CBS Mornings. (2017, Jan 20). Obamas greet President-elect Trump at White House. [Video]. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wOxHAwNCIMY