The Role of Non-Verbal Communication in Intercultural Business

Term Paper, 2015

24 Pages


Table of Contents

List of Figures and Tables

1 Introduction

2 Definitions
2.1 Verbal Communication vs. Non-Verbal Communication (NVC)
2.2 Intercultural Business Context

3 Functions of Non-Verbal Communication

4 Types of Non-Verbal Communication
4.1 Body Image
4.2 Facial Expression
4.3 Gestures
4.4 Bodily Contact
4.5 Olfactory Sensibility
4.6 Understanding of Time

5 Non-Verbal Communication in Intercultural Business Context
5.1 Saudi Arabia (Modest Clothing and Impure Left Hand)
5.2 China (Smile, Patience and Saving Face)
5.3 Japan (Poker Face and Silence)
5.4 Russia (Close Proximity and “Nyekulturny”)
5.5 Brazil (Rich in Gesture and Time Flexibility)

6 Summary and Conclusion

7 References

List of Figures and Tables

Fig. 1 Triangle of Culture Systems1

Fig. 2 Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal bin Abdulaziz al Saud, Owner of Kingdom Holding Company2

Fig. 3 Jack Ma, Founder and Chairman of Alibaba Group3

Fig. 4 Tadashi Yanai, Founder and President of Fast Retailing4

Fig. 5 Oleg Deripaska, Chairman of the Supervisory Board of Basic Element Company5

Fig. 6 Eike Batista, CEO of EBX Group6

Table 1 Types of Non- Verbal Communication in Depicted Countries

1 Introduction

In every encounter people do not only exchange words, they also communicate messages by body language and objects. The specialty of non-verbal communication (NVC) is that many people communicate that way unconsciously and spontaneously and that in most situations it cannot be controlled by the communicator.7

In this seminar paper I will analyze the diverse functions and forms of NVC. In addition, I will focus on business context, although it could be worthwhile to interpret NVC in other areas, like sport - goal celebration of footballers, or the military- facial expression of North Korean militaries, or politics - e.g. body language in election campaigns.

Business context in this paper means the realm of big companies with at least branches in two different cultures. Therefore, I have chosen five countries, where Germany have strong business interest, and, equally important, these countries have different socio-cultural frameworks.

The proceeding in this paper is that after explanatory notes to functions and types of NVC, I will show a photo of one notable business representative of each of the five countries. Based on these photos, I will illustrate the characteristics features of NVC in the respective country. Differences to German NVC will be lined out with special hints to potential pitfalls, causing severe economic consequences.

Finally, I will summarize the main issues of this paper, consider the results and come up with a conclusion.

The sources used for this paper are not only scientifically proven literature. For the definition of NVC in general, long-established surveys of prominent academics are available, like I. Eibl-Eibesfeldt8 (Similarities and Differences between Cultures in Expressive Movements), and M. Argyle9 (Non-verbal Communication in Human Social Interaction). To be responsive to the business related task of this paper, I also draw on “how-to books”, internet posts and a quality journal.

2 Definitions

A working definition of communication can be found at Adler and Rodman: Communication refers to the process of human beings responding to the face-to-face symbolic behavior of other persons.10

So communication in the sense of this seminar paper will focus on humans in each other’s presence, interacting with each other, instead of doing to one another. Communication, especially NVC, can have symbolic meaning, be it with a clearly agreed-upon meaning or not. Finally, a response of a receiver is needed for communication to take place.11

2.1 Verbal Communication vs. Non-Verbal Communication (NVC)

In general terms, verbal communication is speech, NVC is body language. In most cases both modes of communication are interconnected and transport the same message. However, the signals of verbal and NVC differ:12

- Statements of people and circumstances are made by linguistic messages, while NVC channels notifications over the emotional conditions passed on. Language is precise, body language can be interpreted in many ways.13
- Non-verbal signs are only precise where they illustrate reality.14
- A conversation always has a beginning and an end. Non-verbal signs are being sent out as long as people notice each other even when the counterpart shows lack of interest in communication.15
“Even the absence of a message can be a message (E-Mail not answered, phone call not returned).”16
- The special thing about NVC is that non- verbal messages can stand alone for themselves and they do that as they are very often imparted by the parties unconsciously. This explains why they are often not clear, ambiguous and it is difficult to react properly.17
- Language can be controlled, it is purposely used and the effect can be planned beforehand. Non- verbal signs can also be purposely used but there are body signs that are not controllable e.g. sweating, flushing and sudden bursting into tears.18

Consequently to it´s somewhat uncontrollable nature, NVC is considered as unbiased and more truthful than speaking, and in case of conflict between verbal communication and NVC, NVC is more likely to be believed.19

There is no doubt about the importance of NVC. According to University of Pittsburgh Political Communications Professor Jerry Shuster, 85% of what an audience takes is what they glean from mannerisms and facial expressions.20 Broszinsky-Schwabe estimates that the non- verbal share in communication over all cultures is about 70%.21

Speaking about the importance of NVC, there is also great uncertainty with respect to this topic. Kühn calls body language a riddle, the secret, of which code hasn’t been disclosed yet.22

2.2 Intercultural Business Context

Intercultural Business context in the sense of this paper are the action fields of big companies, operating outside their home countries. These companies are acting globally, as their vital functions, like sourcing, manufacturing, investing or selling are permanently directed at multitudinous national economies.

To specify a company as “international” it has to fulfill the following criterions:

- Business policy is focused on international operations
- Organizational structure is focused on international operations
- Qualification and structure of staff is focused on international operations23

Operating in an international environment confronts the companies with many different

cultural systems.

The communication activity of internationally working employees occurs in the triangle of the company culture, the culture of homeland and the culture of host country:24

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten

Fig. 1 Triangle of Culture Systems

Figure 1 shows the complexity of international operations. Considering the individual background of the internationally acting employee, the intricacy of the topic “Intercultural Business Context” becomes evident.

Employee selection for international assignments can be distinguished by the company’s staffing policy:

- Ethnocentric (homeland oriented)
- Polycentric (host country oriented)
- Geocentric (staffing best people regardless of their nationality and culture)

Business context for this paper is anything in relation with business practices, for instance appointments, meetings, negotiations, presentations or entertainment.

3 Functions of Non-Verbal Communication

Usually verbal and NVC communication operate together, however the meaning of the spoken word may differ from the message transported by body language. According to Wertheim, non-verbal cues can play the following roles in combination with speech:

- Repetition: Pointing the way to somebody who has asked for the direction to the next grocery store is repeating a verbal message by sign; also: e.g. putting the hand to the ear when saying “I can’t hear you”.
- Contradiction: Non-verbal cues can even be the opposite of what somebody is saying. If someone with a red face and bulging veins cries: “Angry? I’m not angry!” This behavior is also shown when somebody wants to be ironical or cynical. - Substitution: A non-verbal cue can replace spoken words. A common example is shrugging the shoulders instead of giving a verbal answer.
- Complementing: Complementing behavior supports the spoken word. If a boss pats a person on the back while giving praise, this increases the impact of the message.
- Accenting: Gestures may emphasize a verbal message, for instance stressing the statement: “It was your idea!” with pointing an accusing finger.25

Adler and Rodman add a sixth function of non-verbal communication to the Wertheim list:

- Regulating: If a speaker comes to the end of his oration, the unstated rule is: Create a rising vocal intonation pattern, then use falling intonation, or draw out the final syllable of the clause. If the speaker wants to continue when another speaker seems to be ready to cut off, he can suppress the attempt by taking an audible breath, using a sustained intonation pattern and avoiding any pauses.26

Functions of non-verbal communication are universal, no matter which country or context.

4 Types of Non-Verbal Communication

The body language of the human beings include posture, gesture (gesture of the body), facial expressions, eye contact, touch, and special behavior (distance and proximity). In the broad sense NVC also includes clothes, hairstyle, body care, body jewelry and accessories. Information can be illustrated by non-verbal signals. Non-verbal messages express emotions and are purposely used when linguistic communication is not possible or when it is not appropriate. In certain moments, a cheering smile or a compassionate handshake speak for themselves.27

4.1 Body Image

At an intercultural encounter, both sides try to make an impression on the other. For the assessment, the body image is crucial: body shape, skin color, color and shape of the eye, hair color and hair style, beard and body hair. Strangers are assigned and evaluated by their (stereotyped) look. Non-verbal statements of body image are also made by clothes, jewelry and accessories. It can give information about age, social status, ethnic affiliation or religion. In many places, there is a categorization of the dress code e.g. working clothes, uniforms or religious robes. Dress codes can also demonstrate cultural borders and are an expression of identity. Although, body image is a very individual form of expression as everyone dresses and coiffures at pleasure still certain accordance’s within cultural groups of a person´s nature can be found.28 The body image gives a first impression of a person´s identity and nature. That is why it has such an important role with regard to the preliminaries of an intercultural relationship. Beyond the body image body posture and the way of movement communicate important statements about social position, character and the way a human being feels. In a communicational situation, it depends on how someone presents himself.29

4.2 Facial Expression

Facial expressions comprise the movement of mouth, nose, eyebrows, eyes, ears, cheeks, forehead and neck.30 Ordinarily they can impart a general impression of the frame of mind and the relationship to the communication partner. The facial expression of a person can be described as open or closed, friendly or evil and relaxed or tense.31 Often people can control their facial expression.


1 see Jahnke, 1996, p.28

2 Bin Talal Bin Abdulaziz Alsaud (2015)

3 Time Inc. (2014)

4 Nikkei Asian Review (2013)

5 TTAC (2011)

6 Noticiajato (2013)

7 see Brozinsky-Schwabe, 2011 p.117

8 see Eibl-Eibesfeld, 1972, in Hinde p.297

9 see Argyle, 1972, in Hinde p.243

10 see Adler, Rodman, 1994, p.5

11 see Adler, Rodman, 1994, p.5

12 see Broszinsky-Schwabe, 2011 p.118

13 see Broszinsky-Schwabe, 2011 p.118

14 see Broszinsky-Schwabe, 2011 p.118

15 see Broszinsky-Schwabe, 2011 p.118

16 Adler/ Rodman, 1994, p. 167

17 see Broszinsky-Schwabe, 2011 p.118

18 see Brozinsky-Schwabe, 2011 p.118

19 Shuster, Jerry cited in Sicignano, Michelle

20 Shuster, Jerry cited in Sicignano, Michelle

21 see Brozinsky-Schwabe, 2011 p.117

22 see Kühn, 2002, p.15

23 see Dülfer/ Jöstingmeier, 2008, p.6

24 see Jahnke, 1996, p.28

25 see Wertheim, 2010, p.3

26 see Adler/Rodman 1996, p.168

27 see Brozinsky-Schwabe, 2011 p.118

28 see Bannenberg, 2011 p.30

29 see Broszinsky-Schwabe, 2011 p.121-124

30 see Broszinsky-Schwabe, 2011, p.126

31 see Apeltauer, 1997, p.31; Aronson/ Wilson/ Akert, 2008, p.93-95; Ekman, 1999, p.301-320 cited in Bannenberg, 2011, p.28

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The Role of Non-Verbal Communication in Intercultural Business
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Non verbal communication, intercultural business context, international business, non-verbal, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Brazil, Japan, China, Body language, verbal communication, facial expression, Understanding of time, Gestures, Bodily Contact, Olfactory Sensibility
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Julia Mero (Author), 2015, The Role of Non-Verbal Communication in Intercultural Business, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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