Cultural Influences on Verbal & Nonverbal Communication Styles

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When people speak to people in other cultures, sometimes language is one of the barriers to communicating. However, even when people are speaking the same language, cultural differences may affect the way they communicate. These differences may be seen in people’s verbal and nonverbal communication styles.

1 Facial Expressions

Culture can affect the facial expressions that people use as well as the way they interpret the facial expressions of others. In the United States, for example, smiling can indicate that people are friendly and approachable. In Japanese culture, however, people are expected not to smile because smiling at strangers is seen as inappropriate -- particularly for women.

2 Context

The way people speak may be determined by whether they are a high context culture or a low context culture. In high context cultures, people explain everything that they’re talking about and assume that others don’t have it any information on a certain topic. In low context cultures, on the other hand, it is assumed that people understand what’s being said to them and as a result, they do not explain everything that they’re talking about.

3 Eye Contact

Eye contact can show an interest in another person and attentiveness to a message. In some cultures, making a lot of eye contact conveys honesty, while avoiding eye contact is seen as shifty and dishonest. Other cultures, however, have the opposite view of eye contact. These cultures believe that making a lot of eye contact is insulting and a sign of aggression; people in these cultures will show that they’re paying attention to another person by glancing at them only occasionally.

4 Formality

Speaking can be formal or informal depending on cultural norms. Informal cultures assume that everyone is equal, so people in these cultures speak the same way to everyone. In more formal cultures, it is assumed that there is a hierarchy among people and they are expected to a follow certain protocols depending to whom they are talking.

5 Touch

The way people touch one another may depend upon whether they are a contact culture or a noncontact culture. In contact cultures, people are expected to touch each other when they’re speaking and stand close to each other. In noncontact cultures, this type of touching is seen as inappropriate, pushy and aggressive. In these cultures, people rarely touch one another and tend to stand farther apart.

  • 1 Human Communication: Principles and Contexts; Stewart Tubbs and Sylvia Moss; 2008
  • 2 Human Communication: The Basic Course; Joseph A. DeVito; 2008
  • 3 Thinking through Communication; Sarah Trenholm; 2008

Charlotte Anne Cox is a freelance writer based in New Jersey. She has been a professional writer since 1994 and has written for numerous publications. She also works as a freelance editor for major publishing houses. She has a degree in English. She likes to write about issues related to crime and forensics.