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Three Bolivian women smile and laugh together at a training workshop

From: Participatory communication - Footsteps 117

How to provide opportunities for people to share their ideas and influence change

We often think of communication as being all about the words we say and hear, and the way that these words are spoken. But communication is much more than this. 

Everything we do, from our facial expressions to the way we position our bodies, communicates something about ourselves, our views and our emotions. This is often called ‘body language’.

It is estimated that in a face-to-face setting, more than half of our communication is non-verbal. In other words, it is our bodies and expressions that do a large part of the talking. 

Facial expression

When we cannot see someone’s face, it can be difficult to know if they are happy, sad, joking or serious. Our faces – particularly our eyes and mouths – communicate our moods and feelings. 

Posture

The way we communicate with our bodies varies between countries. For example, eye contact and leaning slightly forwards can indicate interest in some cultures, while in others it can make the other person feel uncomfortable. When and how we sit and stand also communicates different things in different contexts.

Gesture

Appropriate gestures vary widely across the world. For example, a standard greeting may include a handshake, a bow or a kiss on the cheek, depending on the country. The way that men and women interact with each other in public also varies across cultures.

‘It is estimated that in a face-to-face setting, more than half of our communication is non-verbal.’

The more aware we are of these non-verbal messages, the more we will be able to show respect for the people we interact with, and avoid causing offence.

This is particularly important when we are communicating with people who speak or sign a different language from us. And when talking with people with sight loss, or with people on the phone, we need to choose our words carefully and allow the tone of our voice to communicate the thoughts and feelings that they are unable to see in our faces.

Book magazine resource

Resources

  • The Culture Map by Erin Meyer

    This book discusses different aspects of cross-cultural communication and explores some of the differences in communication styles across the world. Visit erinmeyer.com to buy a printed copy. Available in multiple languages.

Illustration of five young men demonstrating different body language

Illustration: Petra Röhr-Rouendaal, Where there is no artist (second edition).

Written by

Written by  Roland Lubett

Roland Lubett is a former facilitator of the Master of Transformational Development course at Eastern College Australia.

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