Non-Verbal Communication

Non-Verbal communication is usually understood as the process of communication through sending and receiving wordless messages. NVC can be communicated through gestures and touch (haptic communication), by body language or posture, by facial expression and eye contact. NVC can be communicated through object communication such as clothing, hairstyles or even architecture, symbols and infographics. Speech contains nonverbal elements known as paralanguage, including voice quality, emotion and speaking style, as well as prosodic features such as rhythm, intonation and stress. Dance is also regarded as a nonverbal communication. Likewise, written texts have nonverbal elements such as handwriting style, spatial arrangement of words, or the use of emoticons.

Language is sometimes the least effective communication tool. According to statistics, we receive only 7% of information from words, through intonation and vocal variety we get 38%, and through gestures, facial expression, and postures as much as 55%. Historically, language was the last communication tool invented by people – animals don’t use what we call speech to help others understand them, and thus, being the latest invention, language exists along with NVC signals and takes up only what was left unsaid. In general, we receive information through words, and judge by appearance and behavior.

Non-Verbal signals can be divided into Innate and Acquired. All signals, except for smile are acquired by a person during his/her life in the process of socializing. That means that different cultures would have some divergent features, which were developed specifically by their isolated societies. And very often divergent signals can cause misunderstandings during communication between the bearers of two non-related cultures.

However, there are also some universal features observed in all even the smallest ethnic and cultural communities of the world. They were distinguished as representations of six fundamental human emotions, and expressed through mimics. They are ANGER, FEAR, DISGUST, ASTONISHMENT, JOY and SADNESS.

A person’s face can tell us a lot. It is well known that if you often smile you will be perceived as more attractive, friendly, warm and approachable person. Smiling is often contagious and a person will react favourably. There is a special science based on reading the faces of suspects to identify if they tell the truth and when they lie, and certain people can appear untrustworthy and taken to police by mistake. Low inner eyebrows, deep indentation, shallow cheekbones, and thin chin can be associated with a criminal or thief. High inner eyebrows, shallow indentation, pronounced cheekbones, wide chin let a person look cheerful and more attractive to us because he possesses the opposite features.

Eyes being the mirror of ones soul are also very important and often confusing. A look in A-S culture Self-confidence denotes straight-forwardness, openness, but a fixed look is considered indecent. At the same time, a long gaze straight in the eye means compassion, sincerity, good manners in the Russian culture. By winking with 2 eyes Americans express a agreement or when they need to be sure they were understood correctly, and in Russian culture winking is an indication of bad manners.

It is better to minimize using gesture while communicating with people of other cultures. If you turn a glass over in an English pub is signifies you want to start a fight. In the USA a raised forefinger is the gesture of beggars, while in the Russian culture it denotes an admonition. Russian ‘thumbs up’ gesture can be confusing, as in the Western cultures it is used while hitch-hiking.

Handshakes with women are typical for the Anglo-Saxon culture and are used when introducing yourself, greeting and saying goodbye. In the Russian culture handshakes are not common, they can be used only when introducing yourself, in other cases it is stated that a woman should nod and drop curtsey when greeting people and saying goodbye.

Inviting gestures are an indispensable part of every culture. Asking to come closer is a universal gesture, inviting for a drink – a gesture reminding of corkscrew in the Russian culture (don’t intermix with a ‘telephone’ gesture), another inviting for a drink gesture resembles a glass, used in the Anglo-Saxon culture (you can also indicate the level of liquid you want to have) .

Another branch of NVC, Proxemics has to do with the study of our use of space and how various differences in that use can make us feel more relaxed or anxious. The term “proxemics” was coined by researcher Edward Hall during the 1950 and 1960’s. Proxemics divides person’s space into different categories:
Public space ranges from 12 to 25 feet and is the distance maintained between the audience and a speaker such as the President.
Social space ranges from 4 to 10 feet and is used for communication among business associates, as well as to separate strangers using public areas such as beaches and bus stops.
Personal space ranges from 2 to 4 feet and is used among friends and family members, and to separate people waiting in lines at teller machines for example.
Finally, intimate space ranges out to one foot and involves a high probability of touching. We reserve it for whispering and embracing.
In Anglo-Saxon and Russian proxemics there exist many differences. For Anglo-Saxons public or social distance 3.5 m is the most comfortable distance. they can easily leave an overcrowded bus or a room full of people without any doubts, he is showing respect to other’s territory. For a Russian-speaking person, however, 3.5 meters is very abusive and expressing contempt. Intimate or personal space for Anglo-Saxons makes up a cocoon, which stretches 10 cm away from the body shape. And in Russian culture it almost equals the body shape.

All these examples illustrate the fact that both Anglo-Saxon and Russian cultures belong to different types. Russians are more kinesic, i.e. they express more information using body language. In 1998 Leger Brosnachan classified the Anglo-Saxon culture as ‘birds’ and Russian as ‘seals’, meaning that birds don’t like physical contact, while seals consider it more appropriate, thus Anglo-Saxon culture is individualistic and Russian is collectivistic.

Non-Verbal Communication. English and Russian compared.