Cultural differences can have a significant impact on nonverbal communication. Do you agree/disagree? Argue in support of your stance (You may relate this to your future profession if you wish).


Please read the following before starting your essay. Note: this should be a starting point for your research.


As we all know very well that body language or non-verbal communication plays a vital role in communicating with others, however it keeps on varying from one culture to the other. Cultural background affects the various forms of non-verbal communication like hands and normsgesture, touch and eye contact etc. Thus it becomes very important to know about intercultural communication because it is the culture which determines the norms in every geographical place. But we know very well that culture issomething which cannot be always seen but can only be something which we can learn.

Tuleja (2005) has given the definition of culture as:

“a group’s communication pattern, how a group solves a problem, and how a group perceives and passes on its shared values, beliefs, attitudes, and behaviours, including its perception of self, group, environment, authority , and power”.

Here non verbal communication will help in revealing the differences between cultures. We usually do not tend to notice this “culture” till anyone violates our cultural norms. Harris & Moran (1999) found that:

“Every culture can be said as a unique arrangement of “components” which signify various lifestyles, distinguishing one culture from one another. That is why these components can cause significant effect on non verbal communication. These cultural dimensions have deep impact on our values, attitudes, behaviours and beliefs and thus making each culture different from the other one. It has been found that non verbal communication can be used by studying its relationship, to build up intercultural sensitivity.If we check the personnel documentations of various multinational companies it has been found there are huge documentations and research done on intercultural misunderstandings and maximum misunderstandings have resulted due to ineffective non verbal communication and due to fallacy of verbal as well as non verbal communication signals, as suggested by Harris and Moran (1999).

There is very great usage of non verbal signs of communication orgestures in all the cultures, thus it again signifies that cultural differences can have deep impact on non verbal communication.Thus in order to avoid any tragedies in any organization or any other place we should try and understand the cultural differences existing in that society , this will help in overcoming the cultural barriers too and will make us better intercultural communicators too.This competence to “people read” is vital to manage any kind of diversity in culture; this has been suggested by Carnevale, Gainer & Meltzer (1990). This concludes that if weunderstandthe nonverbal patterns it will surely help us to understand the whole message.

The deep connection between culture and communication cannot be denied at all, as said by Tim & Schroeder (2000). They also suggested that non verbal communication or listening plays a major role in any kind of communication.Thusimproving the non verbal communication skills will help you to understand the culturally diverse communities in better manner. Tim & Schroeder (2000) created a pre-test- post-test quasi experimental study in which they evaluated 74 students to find the connection or impact of non verbal training on the level of students which belonged to different cultures and they found that there is a deep connection and impact of cultural differences on non verbalcommunication. It was found during the researchdesign that there were discussions about wide range of cultures all over the world by the students which talked mostly about countries like Mexico, Germany, France, Japan, and China etc.

Cultural variations have a strong impact on the way of non verbal communication of people. It can be implied form this that actions which are not considered offensive in our homeland can be considered extremely impolite in foreign business projects. This can be incurred from five most important actions which can turn offensive and can be taken otherwise. (Xpressionz, Culture and nonverbal communication) These actions are Closeness and Articulateness whichshow the necessity and accessibility of communication. Cultures with high immediacacy are known as Contact Cultures and are mostly found in warm temperature countries like Arabian countries. Whereas low immediacy cultures which are known as Low Contact Cultures are found mostly in cold temperature countries like North Europe.

Individualistic actions versus Collectivistic actions.Cultures where individualism is practised are more remote and show lesser amount of non-verbal communication. The example of individualism is again Arabian countries where men are more focussed about themselves and thus display less non verbal communication. While in Collectivistic culture it is totally opposite, here the stress is more on unity in the form of group and they spend time with each others close proximity.

The action of showing masculinity. It has been noticed that women show more synchronization in their actions in low masculinity cultures, whereas they tend to be not in line in their movements in high masculine cultures.Thus here it clearly indicates that the culture of masculinity has an impact on non verbal communication of women depending on the country they are in.

Comprehensive researches have shown that cultures with high-power distance appear to be more “untouchable and they have a propensity to be tenser towards the body movement of their subordinates; they are likely to pass smile for their subordinates to pacify their superiors and tend to be more polite intheir words. In high power-distance culture people tend to be more conscious about the fact that vocal loudness can be offensive to other people thus they are polite in their actions and especially non verbal communications.

High and Low Context cultures show different non verbal cues. It has been found inresearch that people tend to be more hidden in their verbal codes of communication in high context culture. In such culture they take people with high verbal codes lesser attractive and they rely more on non verbal communication and prefer using the non verbal codes for effective communication. But the opposite happens in low context cultures where verbal codes are preferred and people are considered attractive who are outspoken. That is why the Low context Cultures show features like using direct communication forms to openly display the meanings and people have great value for individualism.Direct verbal communication hold great value in their system and are mostly unable to read the non verbal cues of communication.They take support of ‘logic’ to put forth their ideas and give attention to structured messages, tend to giving details and give emphasis to technical signs and stress on usage of words. Whereas the High context culture shows features like completely hiding the meanings at various levels in regard to socio-cultural context and give importance to group culture.They stress more on indirect verbal communication and are capable of reading non verbal cues more efficiently.They are likely to use “feeling’ while expressing themselves.In high context culture the messages are simple andlay emphasis on simple, non-contexting messages which are vague.

The researches stated above directly indicate that there are not just cultural differences existing in our society, but they do have strong impact on the non verbal communication also. Like Americans are seen to be totally obsessed with their looks and dresses to enhance their personality and look attractive, while in some cultures other kind of dresses are considered as signs of status. In Japanese culture bowing shows rank while it is criticized in American culture.Slouching is considered to be rude in North European areas which is a non verbalaction but again culturally influenced. In the same way another non verbal body posture of putting hands in pockets is supposed to be disrespectful in Turkey.

Same way the nonverbal cues of gestures are affected by cultural variations. It has been found that these gestures show incredible variations and possibilities and the gestures which are acceptable in one culture might be offensive in another one. For example in context of counting the thumb denotes number 1 in Germany while number 5 in Japan. The middle finger depicts number 1 in Indonesia. Eye contact is treated as attention and influence on the person while in Japan, Africa, Caribbean countries it is sign of disrespect.

Thus after realising the difference between the various cultures and what kind of non verbal communications are preferred in various parts of globe you can create a successful business environment which will be successful globally.Non verbal communication is vital part of any communication, because it helps you in repeating the verbal message, gives proper accent to the verbal message, along with this it compliments and substitutes the verbal message. That is why it is an important and vital part of communication.Since we very well know that cultural differences occur all through the globe and they affect the non verbal communications in various forms. That is why it is famous saying that actions speak louder than word.Here we have seen that various non verbal cues are different in different parts of the world.Like general appearance and dress, gestures, Body movements, Postures, facial expressions, eye contact and gaze, touch smell and paralanguage all are different and have different meanings in different parts of the world. This clearly indicates that cultural variations have deep impact on nonverbal communication.


  • Carnivale, A. P., Gainer, L.J. & Meltzer, A.S. 1990, Workplace Basics: The essential skills employers want, San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
  • Harris, P.R. & Moran, R.T.  1999, managing Cultural Difference: leadership Strategies for a new world of Business, 5thEdition, Houston, Gulf Publishing Co.
  • Hynes, G. & Hill, K. 2005, Students Perspectives of Cultural Differences in Nonverbal Communication, Association for Business Communication, 7th Edition, Texas.
  • Ikeda, J & Tidwell, C. Cultural differences in non-verbal communication, Vermont Department of Health, viewed on 25 October 2011 from,
  • Tim, S. & Schroeder, B.L. 2000, Listening/ non verbal Communication Training, International Journal of Listening, 14, p 109-129.
  • Tuleja, E.A 2005, Intercultural communication for business, Managerial Communication Series, J.S. O’Rourke, Ed. Thomson South Western.
  • Xpressionz, Culture and nonverbal communication, viewed on 24 October 2011, from


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