Nonverbal communication: a contextual approach

In today's environment, nonverbal communication is a topic that is rarely discussed. Most individuals believe that communication simply involves the verbal sharing of ideas and opinions. The nonverbal cues that are crucial for interacting with another person include personal space, gestures, body language, facial emotions, and the principle of closeness. Touch is one of the most potent and crucial forms of communication. Touch is an effective way to pique someone's interest and is associated with sex, power, and status among other psychological and physical facets of humans. People for long have used touch as a means to express their intimacy through kissing on the cheeks or even shaking hands. Touch has been in use as a way of showing gratitude to friends and close relatives such as through hugging. People through touch extend their sympathies as a way of consoling those that we care and love. The sense of touch sometimes gives us the ritualistic and playful nature of a situation. Different touches are used to relay different messages depending on the person they expressed towards but generally, different forms of touch can represent cultural norms in the United Kingdom that differ from those in Japan or the United States.

When it comes to infants, touch is an essential and yet sensitive part of their growth. Infants use touch as an expression of affection to their parents and as a method of communication. It serves an important role in stimulating psychological and physiological development not only in infants but also in children fewer than 18 and adult beings (Gonzalez-Mena 15). Touch as a means of expressing our affection can be used to show our support to relatives and friends. Such forms of touch are expressed by means of hand or arm initiated by the colleague offering their support as a promise to protect against harm or reassure that things will get back to normal. Often when we shake hands with our friends who happen to be an emotional situation, we squeeze their hand as a way of telling them we are grieving together.

Touch can also be used to show appreciation for an achievement that has been made. In this case, it is often that accompanied by verbal communication to show our gratitude. For example, parent in the United States often hug their children to show their gratitude and affection towards their child on his/her graduation at college though this practice is rare in Japan (Neuliep 44). More practical in the United States and the United Kingdom than it is in Japan, people can touch to as a expression of the fond feelings and being psychologically close to each other in a relationship. Couples can draw attention to each other while walking down the street by holding close to each other. Such a form of touch can be adopted in both private and public scenarios and is more acceptable between family and friend in the United States more than in the United Kingdom and far less than in Japan. Japan is characterized by shy people who tend to be formal in their interactions than people are in the United States (Gesteland 50). Interactions in Japan are ruled by the Japanese culture that has established unique traditions, customs, and values for all possible circumstances. They interestingly have room for other customs whenever they visit other foreign countries. Their societies have integrated feelings of affection to each other as a nation and thereby greatly stressed on the importance of group cohesion and teamwork regardless of the different families each comes from. The Japanese society has established interpersonal relations norms that define and value the status of a social group more than personal status.

Unlike in the United States, hugs and kisses on the cheeks are not a form of greetings in Japan (Chen 12). Such, even among family and close friends are a detriment to their culture and so are exchanged rarely. Common in the United Kingdom, the United States, and Japan for infants and children at tender ages, parents can show their affection towards their kids by forms of touches and kissing but upon reaching the preschool age; such forms of parental expressions greatly reduce in Japan (Gonzalez-Mena 33). Even among married couples, touches that show sexual intimacies are rare and can have a huge impact on such relationship.

The United States and the United Kingdom are established global workplaces with diversified cultures because of the different societies that live in these places. Each culture has its own unique standards and practices, moral norms, and values that they believe in and use to interact with others. Such characters are integral in the personality of individuals from such cultures and therefore influences their interactions and perspectives to touch as a way of expressing affection. A touch perception may be considered immoral, demeaning, and punishable in one culture but the same act may be considered culturally and morally inappropriate and as acceptable behavior in a different society. Other forms of touch may be prohibited in a culture due to the nature of their expression, which can be considered as sexual harassment. When such an act is committed irrespective of being family members or friends are considered as sexual harassment and the United States has enforced strong rules against this (Neuliep 122). For example, when cousins express their affection towards each other in which case their culture prohibits such behavior or a father to his daughter. In such cases, the law punishes the supposed offender.

Affection in the western world is often associated with touch and hugging. Common practice is to let the person with the higher status in the society, with regard to the two, initiate it. Such can happens when expressing gratitude to a family member such as husband to wife. In Japan however, common practice is to shake hands and slightly bow as a sign of respect and gratitude even to close friends and family to maintain the hierarchical integrity of the family composition and preserve unity not only in the family but also in the social groups and society (Chen 37). In Japan, the success of a relationship is not in how often they touch but in the trustworthiness they create, personal compatibilities, and the sincerity that a relationship needs. Theirs in omission to touch, affection can be expressed through other non-verbal forms such as gifts, body language, etiquette, and behaviors. Personal relations are based on the capacity to develop an understanding and share the other person’s interest as your own. In the United States however, though it is expected you invest in the other person’s interest as your own in a relationship, it is a common perception that touch expressed how deep you are into each other.

The extent to which physical touch can be expressed in the Japanese culture is difficult for the Americans to contemplate. For them, touch is used to show closeness and affection and considers its lack as a drawing away from the other person’s interest. This may draw a negative conclusion that the Japanese do not express affection to even their closest people. In the western world, a relationship in which touch is not often expresses interprets persistent problems and misunderstandings between them.

Greetings in many societies, whether social or formal, are innocuous with personal characters and cultural values in their society. To show fondness to each other, business partners may progress from hand shaking to hugging as the draw close to their agreements while in the United States and Japan, agreements are concluded with formal handshakes (Gesteland 120). Such has resulted in a different view of how personal space and touching are perceived in such societies. Due to multicultural diversification in the United States and the changes in demographics as well as the age-diverse and gender, expressing affection through touch is considered essential in daily life. This resulted from the differences in cultural standards, customs, and value unique to each society.

Individual morals, values, and norms prevalent in a culture greatly differ to other cultures according to ethical relativism. Affection can be expressed through certain ways in one culture, which in another culture are immoral and offensive and can be considered sexual harassment even when expressed towards family members or close friends. In the American context, the Hispanic community is among the world cultures in which touch is an open way of expressing affection. Here members of the opposite sex and family members open touch each other. People who know and like each other kiss and hug as a common practice. Women can freely wear clothing that on Japan would be considered provoking. Unlike in Japan, it is a popular and acceptable practice for men to stare and compliment beautiful women.

The translation of foreign thoughts, intentions, and emotions common in specific cultures into our culture can give a strange illusion of such acts. The cultural integrity that a society embraces promotes flexibility in their language and expresses the depth of their emotions while expressing their affection in unique ways. Personal space is an important aspect of every individual regarding his or her country of origin or culture. However, the perception of touching as a norm or moral greatly varies across different countries and cultures from the United States, the United Kingdom, and Japan. Ethical relativism reveals that no cultural practices are universally acceptable to all, but that what might be right in a given society may be the exact opposite in another. Morals safeguard the interest of people in the society and widely vary across cultures. The evaluation of a true culture cannot be based on the beliefs of another, but rather what the people in that culture considers being morally upright and acceptable at a given time. Considerate of a more homogeneous culture such as in Japan, there exist certain differences and diversifications within it in the kinships, social groups, and subcultures it is composed (Chen 7). Therefore, it becomes a daunting task to establish the specific values integral to each culture and effectively compare it with that of the United States or the United Kingdom.


Each aspect of a culture such as the way they touch while expressing affection may reflect different beliefs, morals, and standards pertinent with ethical doctrines that encourage individuals to ascertain the standards, morals, and motives. This is important to understand before exercising foreign customs as a way adopting the values that culture believes be it on social interactions or visits to other parts of the world as touching can be considered rude in other countries. Similarly, hugs and kisses are acceptable in some areas while in others such behaviors are not practiced. The Japanese culture, compared to American multicultural diversification, is more conservative and greatly undermines the essence of touch in showing emotions. Children at tender ages most often do not differentiate the difference between touch for affection to that of sexual harassment and it therefore is the cultural values and practices that disposition a child’s interest and ability to show love in adulthood. The norms that are integral in our cultures will shape how the child grows and shows affection and carries these values to the next generation. These norms should serve to protect the child from sexual harassment and violence. Interpersonal relations can be a challenge to achieve considerate of the many cultures in today’s society. The intonations and differences in wordiness of how people speak present a major challenge in expressing our ideas and thoughts. However, non-verbal communication is the greatest challenge of all times in mastering the different non-verbal cues. It is essential to understand the meaning of the different practices before using them as the different cultures in the world practice different values and interpret actions differently. Perceiving the different form of touch and their intended purpose can go a long way in ensuring smooth interpersonal relations not only in social interactions but also when making business agreements.

Works Cited

Chen, Ling. 2017. Intercultural communication.

Gesteland, Richard R. 2009. Cross-cultural business behavior: marketing, negotiating, and managing across cultures. Copenhagen: Copenhagen Business School Press.

Gonzalez-Mena, Janet. 2007. 50 early childhood strategies for working and communicating with diverse families. Upper Saddle River, N.J.: Pearson Merrill Prentice Hall.

Neuliep, James William. 2009. Intercultural communication: a contextual approach. Los Angeles: Sage.

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