There are a number of features of nonverbal communication. They include gestural communication, eye communication, spatial communication and facial communication. Unlike verbal communication, body language can often aid to cross cultural and lingual barriers, however this is not always the case. Cross-cultural miscommunication is the misinterpretation of communication due to cultural differences.
This essay will discuss how body language can cause cross-cultural miscommunication.
For instance, in the case of gestural communication, also known as kinesics there are many ways in which miscommunication can occur. According to Baron (1992: 391) the movement of body parts carry a meaning in certain situations. Emblems are gestures that interpret words and phrases directly. Gestures vary from culture to culture. For example signalling a person who is crazy in America, England and other western countries is generally performed by the index finger pointing at the forehead and circulating clockwise. However in Japan it is done anti-clockwise. Another emblem that can cause cross-cultural miscommunication is the sign ‘O.K.’. Generally the meeting of the thumb and the index finger signals ‘O.K.’, but in France the same sign can mean nothing or zero, in Japan it means money and in Latin America it brings a sexual meaning (Seal 1997:154).
Eye communication also varies in different context. In Western cultures, it is considered appropriate to look a person in the eye when communication takes place. It shows that the person is listening and taking interest in what is being said and is actively partaking in the conversation as well as helping the speaker receive visual feedback from the listener. The Asian culture and in certain South American cultures deems this act to be rude and disrespectful (Seal 1997:136 & 137). This applies especially when a young person converses with an older speaker such as a teacher or parent. This cross-cultural communication breakdown presented a major problem in a trial where two young Aboriginal boys were accused of stealing. The boys denied the accusation, however the police were sure the boys were lying, as they would not look at the policemen when they answered questions. The boys were almost convicted until a third party finally explained to the police why they behaved in a way the police believed to be suspicious.
In Aboriginal culture, young people are taught not to look their elders or superiors in the eye because it is rude and shows disrespect, whereas white Australians believe that not looking a person in the eye is the sign of a guilty conscience (Niininen 2006: 98).
Spatial communication is also another factor. Spatial communication or proxemics can be defined as a study regarding space managements and in particular, the distance between people in a relationship (cited by Hall in Seal 1997:169). In the context of miscommunication between cultures, proxemics differs both horizontally and vertically. Horizontal distance refers to the distance somebody from a distinguished figure, often referred to as ‘personal space’. In the Western culture, the proxemics between a professor and a student is more informal, students call their lectures by their first names and lecturers are comfortable leaning over there shoulder in order to help them with their work. Whereas in countries such as China, people with a high…