Nonverbal Communications in different cultures

Non-Verbal Cues Taken Differently Across CulturesInterpersonal Communication can be a challenge when put in a cross cultural setting. Verbal communication as it is, already poses a lot of barriers in terms of differently worded statements or just plain intonation. But the bigger challenge lies in interpreting non-verbal communication. No words, just plain non-verbal cues.

Each culture has their own way of interpreting actions. Some are deeply rooted and can be traced way beyond the current generation. If you are working in a multi-cultural company or deal with clients from all over the world, it is imperative to have a clear knowledge of what each particular gesture means for an Asian versus a Latino or someone from the Middle East.

This will definitely put you in a very good position and can give you an easier time in dealing with them or closing deals. Not to mention, it will very well get you out of any trouble.

Here are some of them:

Nodding the head up and down

Normally, moving the head up and down means yes. But in the Middle East, when they nod the head down down, it indicates agreement. While nodding it up means they disagree. In Japan and most of Asia including the Philippines, nodding up-and-down is a way to show that someone is listening and is interested with what you are saying.

Thumbs Up Signal

In UK, a thumbs up sign is positive. But in Sardinia, Greece and some Middle Eastern countries, it’s an insult. Meanwhile in Indonesia, the thumb is often used for pointing. Using fingers is taken as rude.

Facial Expression

It’s been proven by various researches that emotions are expressed in similar ways around the globe. These include enjoyment, anger, fear, sadness, disgust, and surprise. The difference comes alive in how much of these expressions people from various places show in public. In China and Japan, smiling may convey anger or sadness for which it’s not acceptable to show off much. This is unlike other countries like U.S. where smiling is something that comes naturally when happy or when expressing gladness or plain civility.

Eye Contact

Rundown of rules for different cultures on eye contact:

  1. Latinos – They typically avoid direct eye contact with authority figures.
  2. Muslims – Direct eye contact between man and woman is considered bold and flirtatious.
  3. Arabs – They have greater eye contact than Americans among same gender crowd.
  4. Southern Europeans – They are comfortable with lingering eye contact.
  5. British – They engage in less eye contact.


It’s lesser touch for the Japanese for business and casual relationships. Islamic and Hindu typically don’t touch with the left hand. It’s regarded as an insult. Left hand is reserved for the dirty tasks.

Communicating with colleagues, clients and suppliers — be it verbal or non-verbal are usually taken as a common sense skill. Truth to it, not everyone is comfortably equipped with this basic task. A lot can be learned about it to further anyone’s career. After all, communication skills are ranked FIRST among a job candidate’s “must have” skills and qualities, according to a 2010 survey conducted by the National Association of Colleges and Employers.

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What percentage of communication is non verbal?

The standard answer to this is 93% but it is wrong. Look here for a great short explanation:
he truth is that the experiments at the source of this myth (carried out by researcher Albert Mehrabian in the 70's) were focused on some very specific areas of communication - namely the communication of feelings and attitudes - not communication in general.

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