Impact of Norms and Values on non-verbal Communication in International Business

Term Paper, 2001

19 Pages, Grade: 1,3 (A)



1 Introduction

2 Non-verbal communication
2.1 Definition
2.2 Meaning of non-verbal communication
2.3. Elements of non-verbal communication
2.3.1 Distance
2.3.2 Facial play
2.3.3 Body posture
2.3.4 Gestures
2.3.5 External appearance
2.4. Impact and problems of non-verbal communication
2.4.1 First impression
2.4.2 Pygmalion effect
2.4.3 Feedback
2.4.4. Congruent and incongruent behaviour
2.5 Non-verbal communication in international business
2.5.1 Definition of culture
2.5.2 Cross-cultural differences in non-verbal communication
2.5.3 Concrete examples Distance Facial play Body posture Gestures External appearance

3. Conclusion

List of literature

1 Introduction

As a result of improved and extended infrastructure and communication world-wide, there has been a change of the markets, which turned more and more international during the recent years and decades.

In order to be successful and competitive in future enterprises have to think global and use the given opportunities to do business by using the whole dimension of the extended markets. Nowadays there are international corporations, joint-ventures, mergers and business relations with enterprises and people from foreign countries. This fact implies increasing communication on an international level between people with different languages and cultures.

But cross-cultural conversation is far more complex than having the ability to communicate verbally by speaking another language. While the verbal communication is just a minor part of the communication process there is additionally para-verbal and most important of all non-verbal communication to be considered as an important key for successful communication not only on a cross-cultural level.

Therefore the following paper tries to give an overview about the importance of non-verbal communication in interpersonal relations with a closer look on some practical examples of cross-cultural difficulties in interpreting.

2 Non-verbal communication

Non-verbal communication is an important component of our daily life. Whenever people meet we will find conversation on a non-verbal level, even if it seems to be no communication at all. The diversity of non-verbal communication is huge an each individual has its own way of sending and receiving non-verbal messages. To understand the complex non-verbal behaviour of people with different education, cultures or social environment this paper will provide a basic knowledge of the different elements of non-verbal communication before considering the cross-cultural aspect of the topic.

2.1 Definition

Human communication is primary exchanging signals between human beings. To exchange those signals there are used analogue as well as digital signals. (Watzlawick).

While the digital or verbal way of exchanging information is based on signs and letters, analogue or non-verbal communication is much harder to describe, because there are many different ways of communicating analogue. Analogue signals are direct, visual or represent an analogy. (Birkenbihl, p.17).

If we consider the different sides of a message with content, self-revialness, appeal and relationship after Schultz von Thun (Schulz von Thun), digital communication mainly transmit content, while analogue or non-verbal communication tries to express feelings, attitudes and experiences hard to express in words. (Argyle, p.17)

As Birkenbihls definition describes the analogue communication very comprehensive, it forms the basis for the following paper. To illustrate the difference between digital (verbal) and analogue (non-verbal) communication the following example of a daily situation in life tries to visualise the difference:


„I am amused“ : Rendering verbal (digital)

The sentence is spoken, the sense can be recognised of the different words and letters

The person is laughing: Rendering non-verbal (analogue)

In this case laughing is body language which can indicate the fact, that the person is amused.

2.2 Meaning of non-verbal communication

The meaning of non-verbal communication is far more important than the majority of people would think. Murdock and Scutt (Murdock and Scutt, p.46) define the content of a message as

- 7 percent of words
- 38 percent of voice tonality
- 55 percent of body language or non-verbal communication

Trompenaar even goes one step further by mentioning that recent surveys showed that even among people with same language and culture approximately 75% of communication is non-verbal (Trompenaar, S.76). If we extend this to cross-cultural communication without a common language between the communicating persons, the impact may be even bigger (Bergemann, p.232f). Furthermore it is not possible for human being to communicate only on a content level without sending any information on the relationship level due to the different elements of non-verbal communication. (Birkenbihl, p.21)

Therefore, in private as well as in business life it is not only important to follow the verbal content of a conversation, but also the variety of conscious and unconscious signals of the body, that indicate more information about the actual message desired to be transmitted. Therefore dependent on the quality of understanding the communicated message is also the relationship between the communication persons (Birkenbihl, p.18f).

2.3. Elements of non-verbal communication

Non-verbal human communication consists of a variety of different elements to express messages in an analogue way. It can be divided into distance, facial plays, body posture, gestures and external appearance. The following chapter will introduce to the different forms of non-verbal communication mentioned above.

2.3.1 Distance

A good example for most unconscious body-linguistic behaviour is the association of human beings with distance and space surrounding. It is divided into four zones (Birkenbihl following Hall, p.139f).

- The privacy or intimate zone surrounds the body like a bubble and is dependant on the status of the communication partner as well as on the own mood. Normally only very close confidants get access into this privacy zone, therefore intimate partner or close relatives. If someone’s privacy zone gets invaded it causes feelings of aversion and this eventually leads to a production of aversive hormones: the body prepares for escaping out of this situation.

- The personal zone is reserved for close friends, relatives, perhaps also for close colleagues. A strange phenomenon can be recognised if it is impossible to avoid strangers to enter your personal zone, e.g. in a crowded bus. This incident causes us to treat the other person as a „non-person“ (Birkenbihl, p.154). The reason for that is the human being takes defensive actions to get along with his own indisposition. You are not moving, tensing your muscles, focusing some spot far away to avoid eye-contact with the stranger. This attitude is acquired and therefore distinct differently among different cultures.
- The social zone is reserved for social contacts on the surface. It occurs in conversations with no personal relationship to the conversation partner, e.g. your superior, colleagues or friends.
- The last and most impersonal zone mentioned is the public zone. Its distance extends over the social zone even if the conversation partner is known, e.g. distance between teacher and students, speaker and audience. Furthermore it includes all unconscious non-verbal communication we are experiencing in daily life like eye-contact with strangers at the bus stop or in the pedestrian zone, etc. With technical support like cameras it is possible to extend this zone up to an infinite distance.

The stretch of the zones described above are strongly cultural dependant and therefore can’t be indicated closer.. Even among same cultures people have different definitions and understanding of distance zones due to education and social influence within the culture.

2.3.2 Facial play

The facial play of human beings is a very expressive element of body language. It consists of all forms observed in the face of a person, including

- Facial features
- Eye-contact
- Facial direction
- Head movements


Excerpt out of 19 pages


Impact of Norms and Values on non-verbal Communication in International Business
Pforzheim University  (Economics)
Cross-cultural management
1,3 (A)
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
File size
384 KB
non-verbal verbal communication distance facial play gestures culture cross-culture
Quote paper
Jochen Volm (Author), 2001, Impact of Norms and Values on non-verbal Communication in International Business, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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