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Other Communication Styles

Other Communication Styles

Author: marlene johnson

At the end of this tutorial, the learner will understand that different cultures may attribute very different meanings to a wide range of non-verbal symbols.

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We are communicating all the time, whether we know it or not. It's almost impossible not to communicate something through our non-verbals, whether it be gestures, facial expression, body movement. And different cultures can attribute very different meanings to a wide range of nonverbal symbols. I'm Marlene, and in this tutorial today, I'd like to look at three specific ways we communicate non-verbally, and how, often times, it easily can be miscommunication.

So I would like to talk with you about physiognomics, which really refers to facial expressions. Kinesics, which refers to body movement gesture. And haptics, which refers to touch, Now touch, body movement, gestures, facial expression, these are all ways of communicating, Symbols that we use to communicate messages, and our reaction to these nonverbal ways of communication is instantaneous, and emotional because we tend to interpret the signal that we get in terms of our own culture, and we have very strong meanings for particular ways of communicating, whether it be through body language, touch, or facial expression.

Now it's interesting to note that some elements of nonverbal communication are pretty consistent around the world. Research has shown that the emotions of enjoyment, fear, anger, sadness, disgust, are expressed in a pretty similar manner, no matter where you go. However, the difference lies in when it's acceptable to display these emotions in various cultural settings, and by whom. We could even see that here in the United States. In various settings it's considered more appropriate for example, for women to display fear, but not anger. And vice versa, men, it's more appropriate for them to display the emotion of anger but not fear.

So we have these built in cultural biases towards who can express what emotion, and in what setting. Now the expression of happiness. That might be a facial expression, for example, of happiness that might be recognized as happy around the world, might actually in some Asian cultures be masking sadness, or actually an expression of anger. Because both at sadness and anger are not considered appropriate to express overtly. So these are just a couple of examples how, even with facial expression, we can be sending signals that perhaps we don't intend or we could be misinterpreting something.

Eye contact is also another form of facial expression, and it varies how to use eye contact, depending on culture. I mean, we might make very, direct eye contact here in the United States, but we'll look away after a few seconds. Whereas in some cultures, prolonged eye contact is considered a sign of respect, and interest. Whereas in other cultures, you wouldn't make eye contact with someone in authority. It would be disrespectful. So facial expressions can be interpreted in a variety of ways depending on culture.

Now how about touch or haptics? In this country, here in United States, we like our personal space, and we reserve touching for people that we are close to, and we do it more in a private manner within our families, within our homes. However, it's common in many cultures for women who are just friends to walk down the streets, perhaps holding hands. For a man, to casually embrace, as they walk down the street, considered very natural, very normal. And in some cultures, being more affectionate, greeting one another with a kiss on the cheek, perhaps on both cheeks, it's considered an acceptable way to greet someone. So touch, and closeness, and proximity, where people will stand next to one another, and touch one another varies among different cultures, between cultures, body movement, and gesture, just the way we naturally express ourselves.

Now I was just talking about facial expression, and emotion, but just the overall display of emotion, how we display it, also varies. This is referred to as kinesics. How we display emotion, for example, in some cultures, when you're going to discuss or debate an issue, becoming very emotional, and exhibiting the feelings openly. Perhaps yelling or using a lot of gestures to show the emotion involved, is appropriate. Whereas, in other cultures, it is more appropriate to hide the emotion, and share only facts of the rational information that you might want to bring to a particular issue.

So those are differences, just in terms of how we use our bodies, and express ourselves or gesture. And of course, there are gestures that could be misinterpreted between cultures as well. We might use a gesture such as this, which is a strong positive gesture here, and it does not mean that. It means the opposite in other cultures. So it is important to understand that it's impossible not to communicate, and that we react instantaneously, and emotional, very emotionally, to the nonverbal communication that we either receive or we send. So touch, body movement, gesture, and facial expressions, because we do interpret it for our own cultural norms. Well, I'm Marlene. I've enjoyed this tutorial, and I look forward to next time.

Terms to Know

The communication style which uses touch as a symbol.


The communication style which uses body movement/gesture as a symbol.

Non-Verbal Communication

Communication using a variety of physical codes.


The communication style which uses facial expression as a symbol.