Cultural diversity has an interesting aspect – how it can be expressed through non-verbal communication. Although nonverbal communication is integral to every culture, it can take various forms – from subtle to obvious. Whatever form it takes, nonverbal communication is an inseparable component of every culture.

Nonverbal communication is a fundamental part of every culture and its communication. No society doesn’t employ some form of nonverbal communication.

What is non-verbal communication?

Non-verbal communication is the process of sending and receiving messages without using words. It includes everything we convey without using words – like our expressions, gestures, body language, eye contact, and tone of voice. The unspoken part of communication can add depth to our spoken messages, showing emotions and attitudes that words alone might not capture.

Non-verbal communication can be a great part of our opinion of someone – it can influence how we feel about each other and perceive someone.

When we communicate nonverbally, we can reveal our true feelings and intentions more accurately than when we use words alone, even if we don’t want to. But we can also use non-verbal communication to enhance or add to our verbal messages. For example, we might use a gesture to emphasize a point or clarify our meaning. Understanding non-verbal communication is a vital part of our cultural intelligence.

Non-verbal communication across cultures

Each culture worldwide has its distinctive non-verbal traditions that can greatly differ from one another. For example, in certain cultures, maintaining eye contact during a conversation is seen as polite and respectful. However, other cultures view it as impolite or even disrespectful. Now, let’s explore some of the most common types of non-verbal communication:

• Touch

• Handshaking

• Body movement and posture

• Eye contact

• Gestures

• Personal space

• Tone of voice


The meaning of touch varies greatly from culture to culture. In some cultures, touch is reserved exclusively for close friends and family, while in others, it is perfectly acceptable to touch strangers. Touch can also be used to express something in a non-verbal way.

For example, a light touch on the shoulder may convey sympathy, while a firm handshake may convey confidence. The meaning of touch is highly contextual, so it is important to be mindful of the cultural norms regarding physical contact when traveling to a new country.


Handshake is a gesture widely used as a form of non-verbal communication. Though its origins are unknown, people often use shaking hands to communicate without words. However, it can carry different meanings across cultures. For example, in the United States, shaking hands is often used to greet someone or seal a business deal.

In contrast, in some Asian cultures, bowing is a more common greeting. In Japan, for instance, people typically bow when they meet someone new or want to show respect: it might be seen as a sign of respect and be considered more formal than shaking hands.

When traveling, especially for business, learning and understanding the meaning of different gestures is important to avoid miscommunication.

Body movement and posture

Body movement and posture can sometimes transfer more meaning than simple words. How we move and appear can pass on different messages – about our relationships with others, our emotional state, and our level of power and authority.

There are different norms for body movement and posture in different cultures. We can save ourselves and others from misunderstandings if we learn about them before meeting people from other countries.

Eye contact

In Western cultures, like Europe and North America, eye contact is often important in communication. It can often be perceived as a sign of respect. It also helps us feel more connected and trust each other more. However, in some other cultures, eye contact is seen as inappropriate or even rude. For example, in many Asian cultures, it is more common to lower one’s gaze when talking to someone else. This may be due to a belief that too much eye contact can be invasive or disrespectful.


A gesture is a non-verbal communication in which visible body actions, alone or combined with words, express specific messages. Many gestures are recognized across cultures – such as waving, pointing, and hugging. But others may have different meanings in different cultures.

For example, in many Western cultures, a thumbs-up signifies approval, while in most East Asian countries, it is considered rude. It is important to be aware of the cultural context of gestures when traveling or working with people from other cultures, as an inappropriate gesture can unintentionally offend.

Personal space

Personal space is the distance we maintain between ourselves and others to feel comfortable. This distance varies depending on our culture, relationship with the other person, and the situation. In some cultures, people stand close to each other when talking, while in others, people keep a much greater distance.

People also tend to stand closer to friends and family members than strangers. The concept of personal space is also affected by the situation. For example, people often stand closer together in crowded places such as subways and elevators. Knowing the idea of personal space in different cultures is important for effective communication with different people.

Tone of voice

The tone of voice is like a final touch that can color our words with emotions – joy, excitement, anger, sadness… The way we use our voice can also vary significantly from one culture to another. In some cultures, speaking softly is seen as polite. In others, a strong, firm voice shows confidence and assertiveness.

In order to bridge the gap between cultures and better communicate with people from other backgrounds, it’s important first to understand some of the basics of non-verbal communication.