Friday, September 5, 2014

Non-verbal communication

In the Seminar for International Teaching Assistants, we have a great conversation at the beginning of the semester about non-verbal communication. It's related to teaching but we expand to everyday life.

 One topic is moving around, how in Asian cultures teachers stand in one area and don't move around the room. Moving around keeps students focused, though. I remember having a crush on my Economics professor in collage because he'd pace across the stage, moving his arms up and down to emphasize points. He was so passionate about such a boring subject. Once an older student from China came into the room and I was sitting or learning on the desk. I introduced myself by my first name, and he nearly out of his desk.

One thing I've learned lately that I didn't know was that in many Asian countries, crossing your legs is a no-no. But that's so ladylike here! Plus it is much more polite for both genders than leaning back with knees out. Apparently, this is considered arrogant in Japan. It's informal in Korea, so don't do it except with friends there. Be aware if interviewing for a job there!

Eye contact is a biggie. BIGGIE, as my mom would say. Asians hold it a shorter time and don't make it with strangers. Children in Asia, the Middle East and Africa can not look their parents in the eye when being scolded, the opposite of the U.S. Men sometimes defer eye contact out of respect. Europeans and North Americans would think they are hiding something. In France, people on the subway would just stare at me, and stare, and it was so unsettling. I think in a dangerous situation, it's good to make short eye contact to show you aren't afraid or weak. My international students from Asian avoid it on campus and thus don't often fit in.

What I didn't know, was that women in business often use social eye contact, looking around the nose area, and are considered flirty. They are taken more seriously if they look people around the forehead area.

So much misunderstanding occurs due to non-verbal behavior, which varies among genders and cultures.


  1. One of my college roommates was Vietnamese, and he told me how it was disrespectful to look elders in the eye in his culture. As he got older, he had to change this habit, because it was causing him problems with his American teachers. Because he wouldn't look them in the eye, some of them thought he was being dishonest with them. What was viewed as respectful in his culture, was seen as quite disrespectful by his teachers. Non-verbal differences between cultures definitely exist!
    Terence Cole

  2. Oh, this is the story from our class!