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Cultural Disparities: How People Express Themselves

The foundation of communication is the interaction between people in order to express themselves. Humans can interact with each other using either verbal or non-verbal communication ways. Cultural disparities influence the way people express themselves across different cultures. Both are important in many ways when used during cross-cultural communication. Verbal communication is a way where people express themselves using the language understood by the other person. On the other side non-verbal communication is the process of communication by using wordless messages, including facial expressions, eye contact, tone of voice, body posture and motions, and positioning within groups. It may also include the way we wear our clothes or the silence we keep. Through these cross cultural communication could be explained as how different cultures around the world differ in connecting each other. This essay will explain the relative importance of verbal communication in opposing to non-verbal communication in their contribution to effective cross-cultural communication. It will also cover the area of whether it is more important to address issues and problems with respect to verbal or non-verbal communication.

Throughout history different cultures have used different ways to communicate between each other. Before proceeding any further we should define culture. Brislin (1993) states that “culture consists of ideals, values and assumptions about life that a widely shared amongst people and that guide specific behaviours” (P.4). This communication has also differed throughout time as people interacted between each other, learning new types and ways of communication. All communication is cultural, it draws upon ways we have learned to speak and give non-verbal expressions. We do not always communicate the same way from day to day, since aspects like context, individual personality, and mood interact with the variety of cultural influences we have internalised that influence our choices. Communication is interactive, so an important influence on its effectiveness is our relationship with others. So we should ask “do they hear and understand what we are trying to say?” “Are they listening well?” “Are we listening well in reaction?” “Do their responses show that they understand the words and the meanings behind the words we have chosen?” “Is the mood positive and receptive? Is there trust between them and us?” “Are there differences that relate to ineffective communication, divergent goals or interests, or fundamentally different ways of seeing the world?” The answers to these questions will give us some clues about the effectiveness of our communication and the simplicity with which we may be able to move through conflict.

Nonverbal communication is hugely important in any interaction with others, its importance is multiplied across cultures. This is because we tend to look for non-verbal cues when verbal messages are unclear or ambiguous, as they are more likely to be across cultures, especially when different languages are being used. Since non-verbal behaviour arises from our cultural common sense, our ideas about what is appropriate, normal, and effective as communication in relationships, we use different systems of understanding gestures, posture, silence, special relations, emotional expression, touch, physical appearance, and other nonverbal cues. Cultures also attribute different degrees of importance to verbal and nonverbal behaviour.

Non-verbal communication account for up to seventy percent of human communication, according to renowned linguist Erving Goffman (1981). In addition, different patterns of nonverbal communication, though rarely spelled out for us verbally, distinguish different cultures. Edward T. Hall discusses these differences in his books, The Hidden Dimension and The Silent Language. He shows that people from Middle Eastern and Arab backgrounds stand closer to each other when talking, finding it acceptable and even desirable to breathe on each other when talking, whereas most Americans of European descent are taught not to breathe on people while talking to them, and to stand approximately eighteen inches to two and a half feet apart from friends and associates while carrying on a conversation.

Opposing non-verbal communication is verbal communication. Speaking in such a way that another understands what we mean, and understanding what is meant when someone speaks to us, are the two elements crucial to the effective performance of expressing ourselves almost every day. When we communicate verbally with others, either in a conversation or in a presentation, our customary goal is to have people understand what we are trying to say. That’s why cross-cultural communication becomes important as we need to be able to let the other side easily understand us. We encounter inter cultural communication almost every day if we are living in a multi cultural country like Australia. So, to interact with others in our daily lives we need to be able to speak a language that the other side could understand.

Differences of understanding may lead to disagreement, or rise existing conflict. Presume a Japanese person is explaining her absence from work due to a death in her family. She may do this with a smile, based on her cultural belief that it is not appropriate to inflict the pain of grief on others (Beyond Intractability, 2003). For a foreigner who understands smiles to mean friendliness and happiness, this smile may seem incongruous and even cold, under the circumstances. Even though some facial expressions may be similar across cultures, their interpretations remain culture exact. It is important to understand something about cultural starting-points and values in order to interpret emotions expressed in cross-cultural interactions.

In conclusion, it could be understood from the evaluation made that verbal and non-verbal communication is equally significant in cross-cultural communication. But as discussed in the previous paragraphs, non-verbal communication account up to about 70% of human communication. According to a research, in a conversation or a verbal communication words are 7% effective, tone of voice is 38% effective and non-verbal expressions are 55% effective (Nierenberg, 1971). So, although both are very significant non-verbal communication is more effective in cross-cultural communication.

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