Verbal and nonverbal communication Styles

Ani KingtonAni Kington

Interpersonal Communication Styles

While all cultures use verbal and nonverbal communication, communication styles vary greatly. What something means in your home country could mean something entirely different in the U.S. While this may seem obvious, it's important to keep in mind as you intern or train in the U.S. For example, in some cultures it is considered rude and intrusive to speak in very close proximity to another person. In others, it may be considered very rude or standoffish to keep one's distance when conversing. It's crucial to be culturally sensitive and aware of how your behavior might be interpreted, particularly if you are interested in having an international career. Anthropologists and communication experts have explored these ideas in great depth, but let's take a look at some of the basics of intercultural communication.

Proxemics & Personal Space

American anthropologist Edward T. Hall coined the term "Proxemics" in 1963 as he studied the use of space as it relates to interpersonal communication. It can be defined as, "The interrelated observations and theories of man's use of space as a specialized elaboration of culture" (Hall, Edward T. (1966). The Hidden Dimension. Anchor Books.) The main idea is that people from different cultures have different concepts of what constitutes one's "personal space" and that the way we use the space around us is generally shaped by our culture.

For the most part, people in the United States, Canada, the UK, and Nordic countries have the largest personal-space requirements. Those living in South America, Europe, and Asia have far smaller standards of personal space. In general, people in the United States tend to expect more personal space. It's helpful to try and pick up on social cues. For example, if you are speaking with someone who takes a step back, you may be too close to him or her without realizing it. Don't take offense—it just means you have different concepts of personal space.

Population can also come into play here—those in densely populated cities are often more accustomed to having less personal space than those in lesser-populated areas. Try and be mindful of the space between you and someone else and be understanding of those who may unintentionally get too close to you, too, since their concept of personal space likely differs from yours. If you're unsure, let the other person lead!


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