Non-verbal communication is a vital part of interaction with others. When communicating across cultures its importance increases dramatically as cultural differences may lead to misinterpretation. Eye contact, facial expressions and gestures are nonverbal communication skills which can detract from effective interpersonal communication in a cross cultural context, contributing to an inaccurate transfer of the intended meaning. Averted eye contact can be misinterpreted as a sign of dishonesty and lack of interest amongst Western society, leading to an unstable relationship between the two parties involved. Facial expressions often say more than what is verbally communicated, however, the lack of emotions shown from Japanese and other cultures can be disconcerting and confusing to cultures such as America who openly wear such facial expressions. Gestures commonly used throughout one culture can majority of the time have different meanings in another culture, sometimes leading to offensive interpretations. These non-verbal communication skills distort the intended meaning when interpreted wrongly, and overall detract from effective intercultural communication.
Eye contact, either direct or averted, sends many messages which can be portrayed differently depending on the culture of the receiver of the information. In Western societies, a person with direct eye contact holds the receivers attention and comes across as honest and reliable (Akechi, Senju, Uibo, Kikuchi, Hasegawa, & Hietanen, 2013). While an averted gaze moves the receiver’s attention to the location or object it may be considered as portraying dishonesty or lack of interest (Eunson 2013). In cultures such as Navajo and Kenyan it is a sign of respect to avoid eye contact, especially with elders (Martin & Nakayama 2011). In America however, eye contact is highly valued and takes place in majority, if not all, of face to face communication (Samovar, Porter & McDaniel 2010). In a business context,...
References: Akechi, H., Senju, A., Uibo, H., Kikuchi, Y., Hasegawa, T. & Hietanen, J.K. 2013, ‘Attention to Eye Contact in the West and East: Autonomic Responses and Evaluative Ratings’, PLoS One, vol. 8, no. 3.
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Samovar, L, Porter, R, & McDaniel, E 2010, Communication Between Cultures, 7th edn, Wadsworth, Boston.
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