Non-Verbal Communication Modes
Note:  The following are teaching notes that I made available for students in BSAD560, Intercultural Business Relations, a graduate course offered as an elective in the MBA program at Andrews University.  If you find this material useful, you may use it for non-commercial purposes such as teaching, intercultural training seminars, etc.  In such cases, provide an appropriate academic citation to Dr Charles Tidwell, Dean Emeritus, Andrews University.

In addition, these notes have been translated into more than a dozen languages as listed at the bottom of this web page.  If you desire to translate these notes into another language and use them in a blog or other publically available web site and wish to have this noted here, please let me know.  My e-mail is

What is non-verbal communication? Why is non-verbal communication important?
  1. General Appearance and Dress
  2. All cultures are concerned for how they look and make judgements based on looks and dress.  Americans, for instance, appear almost obsessed with dress and personal attractiveness.  Consider differing cultural standards on what is attractive in dress and on what constitutes modesty. Note ways dress is used as a sign of status.

  1. Body Movement
  2. We send information on attitude toward person (facing or leaning towards another), emotional statue (tapping fingers, jiggling coins), and desire to control the environment (moving towards or away from a person).

    More than 700,000 possible motions we can make — so impossible to categorize them all!  But just need to be aware the body movement and position is a key ingredient in sending messages.

  3. Posture
  4. Consider the following actions and note cultural differences:

  5. Gestures
  6. Impossible to catalog them all.  But need to recognize: 1) incredible possibility and variety and 2) that an acceptable gesture in one’s own culture may be offensive in another (A-Ok hand gesture fine in US but obscene in Brazil).  In addition, amount of gesturing varies from culture to culture.  Some cultures are animated; other restrained.  Restrained cultures often feel animated cultures lack manners and overall restraint.  Animated cultures often feel restrained cultures lack emotion or interest.

    Even simple things like using hands or fingers to point and count differ.

    Pointing : US with index finger; Germany with little finger; Japanese with entire hand (in fact most Asians consider pointing with index finger to be rude)

    Counting:  Thumb = 1 in Germany, 5 in Japan, middle finger for 1 in Indonesia.  (Some native speakers dispute these showing disparity even within a culture)

  7. Facial Expressions
  8. While some say that facial expressions are identical, meaning attached to them differs.  Majority opinion is that these do have similar meanings world-wide with respect to smiling, crying, or showing anger, sorrow, or disgust.  However, the intensity varies from culture to culture.  Note the following:

  9. Eye Contact and Gaze
  10. In USA, eye contact indicates: degree of attention or interest, influences attitude change or persuasion, regulates interaction, communicates emotion, defines power and status, and has a central role in managing impressions of others.

  11. Touch
  12. Question: Why do we touch, where do we touch, and what meanings do we assign when someone else touches us?

      Illustration: An African-American male goes into a convenience store recently taken over by new Korean immigrants.  He gives a $20 bill for his purchase to Mrs Cho who is cashier and waits for his change.  He is upset when his change is put down on the counter in front of him.

      What is the problem?  Traditional Korean (and many other Asian countries) don’t touch strangers, especially between members of the opposite sex.   But the African-American sees this as another example of discrimination (not touching him because he is black).

    Basic answer:  Touch is culturally determined!  But each culture has a clear concept of what parts of the body one may not touch.  Basic message of touch is to affect or control  — protect, support, disapprove (i.e. hug, kiss, hit, kick).  

    Basic patterns: Cultures (English , German, Scandinavian, Chinese, Japanese) with high emotional restraint concepts have little public touch; those which encourage emotion (Latino, Middle-East, Jewish) accept frequent touches.

  13. Smell
  15. Paralanguage


Bosnian Amina Dugalic http://the-scienc
Milika Novak
Estonian Sonja Kulmala
Elsa Jansson

Hungarian Elana Pavlet

Lars Olden
Macedonian Jimmy Anastasovsk
Marek Murawski 

Weronika Pawlak
Amaan Singh
Johanne Teerink

Alexey Marchenko

Sandi Wolfe
Laura Mancini
Ukranian Anna Matesh
Sherali Niyazova

Updated:  June 19, 2019