What Does Non-verbal Communication Look Like Across Cultures?

Source: helpguide.org

One of the most fascinating aspects of cultural diversity is the way it can be expressed through non-verbal communication. From the subtle to the overt, non-verbal communication is a vital part of every culture, and it can take many different forms. In some cultures, non-verbal communication is used primarily to convey emotions or intentions, while in others it may be used to convey status or social roles. Regardless of its form, non-verbal communication is an essential part of every culture, and it offers a window into the unique values and beliefs of that culture.

What is non-verbal communication?


Non-verbal communication is the process of sending and receiving messages without using words. It includes body language, such as facial expressions, gestures, eye contact, and postures. It also includes other cues, such as personal space, touch, and tone of voice. Non-verbal communication is an important part of our everyday lives. It can influence how we feel about someone and how they feel about us.

When we communicate nonverbally, we can reveal our true feelings and intentions more accurately than when we use words alone. We can also use non-verbal communication to enhance or supplement our verbal messages. For example, we might use a gesture to emphasize a point or to make our meaning clearer. Non-verbal communication is a powerful tool that can help us to connect with others, build relationships, and to resolve conflict.

Non-verbal communication across cultures

Source: g2.com

Every culture has its own unique set of non-verbal customs, and these can vary widely from one group to another. For example, in some cultures, it is considered polite to make eye contact when spoken to, while in others it is considered disrespectful. Likewise, gestures such as handshakes and hugs can carry different meanings in different cultures. Some of the common forms of non-verbal communication are:

  • Touch
  • Handshaking
  • Body movement and posture
  • Eye contact
  • Gestures
  • Personal space
  • Tone of voice


Source: theguardian.com

The meaning of touch varies greatly from culture to culture. In some cultures, touch is reserved for close friends and family, while in others it is perfectly acceptable to touch strangers. Touch can also be used as a form of non-verbal communication. For example, a light touch on the shoulder may convey sympathy, while a firm handshake may convey confidence. The meaning of touch is highly contextual, so it is important to be mindful of the cultural norms regarding physical contact when traveling to a new country.


Source: news.harvard.edu

The act of shaking hands is a gesture that is widely used as a form of non-verbal communication. Though its origins are unknown, the action has come to be an important social custom in many cultures. For example, in the United States, shaking hands is often used as a way to greet someone or to seal a business deal.

In contrast, in some Asian cultures, bowing is a more common form of greeting. In Japan, for instance, people typically bow when they meet someone new or when they want to show respect: it might be seen as a sign of respect and be considered more formal than shaking hands. Understanding the meaning of different gestures like this is important in order to avoid miscommunication.

Body movement and postur

Body movement and posture is an important forms of non-verbal communication. The way we move and carry ourselves conveys messages about our relationships with others, our emotional state, and our level of power and authority. These messages can be conveyed through intentional movements, such as shaking someone’s hand or bowing, as well as through more subtle cues, such as the way we hold our head or the amount of space we allow between ourselves and others.

Different cultures have different norms for body movement and posture, which can lead to misunderstandings if people from different cultures interact without being aware of the differences. For example, in many Western cultures eye contact is considered a sign of honesty and respect, while in some East Asian cultures avoiding eye contact is seen as a sign of respect. Knowing the meaning of different body movements and postures in different cultures can help prevent miscommunications and promote mutual understanding.

Eye contact

Source: ebright.my

In Western cultures, like Europe and North America, eye contact is often considered an important part of communication. It can be seen as a sign of respect, and it also helps to establish rapport and build trust. However, in some other cultures, eye contact is seen as inappropriate or even rude. For example, in many Asian cultures, it is more common to lower one’s gaze when talking to someone else. This may be due to a belief that too much eye contact can be invasive or disrespectful.

In addition, people from different cultures may also have different ideas about how long eye contact should be held. In the West, it is often considered polite to make brief eye contact with someone when you first meet them, and then to maintain eye contact throughout the conversation. However, in some other cultures, it may be considered more polite to avoid eye contact altogether.


A gesture is a type of non-verbal communication in which visible body actions, either alone or in combination with words, express specific messages. Many gestures such as waving, pointing, and hugging are universally recognized across cultures, while others may have different meanings in different cultures.

For example, in many Western cultures, a thumbs-up gesture typically signifies approval, while in most East Asian countries it is considered rude. It is important to be aware of the cultural context of gestures when traveling or working with people from other cultures, as an inappropriate gesture can unintentionally cause offense. At the same time, understanding the meaning of gestures can also be a helpful way to learn more about a culture. By observing the non-verbal communication of those around them, travelers can gain insights into the values and customs of a new culture.

Personal space

The concept of personal space is an important part of non-verbal communication. Personal space is the distance that we maintain between ourselves and others in order to feel comfortable. This distance varies depending on our culture, our relationship with the other person, and the situation. In some cultures, people stand close to each other when they are talking, while in others, people keep a much greater distance.

People also tend to stand closer to friends and family members than strangers. The concept of personal space is also affected by the situation. For example, people often stand closer together in crowded places such as subways and elevators. Understanding the concept of personal space is important for effective communication with people from other cultures.

Tone of voice

Source: madebrave.com

The tone of voice is an important element of nonverbal communication. It can convey a wide range of emotions, from happiness and excitement to anger and sadness. The way we use our voice can also vary significantly from one culture to another. For example, in some cultures, it is considered polite to speak softly, while in others a more forceful tone is seen as more assertive and confident. In order to effectively communicate with someone from a different culture, it is important to be aware of these differences in vocal patterns. By understanding how the tone of voice is used in different cultures, we can avoid misunderstandings and better connect with the people around us.

Non-verbal communication is a critical aspect of human interaction, yet it can be difficult to understand how non-verbal cues vary across cultures. In order to bridge the gap between cultures and better communicate with people from other backgrounds, it’s important to first understand some of the basics of non-verbal communication. Also, the way to improve your cross-cultural communication skills is to become aware of your own cultural biases in regard to non-verbal communication.