“I come from a part of Nigeria where a lot of value is placed on implicit communication. The 'well brought up' child is the one who can pick up nonverbal cues from adults and interpret them correctly.”
Communication is not limited to words. Feelings and desires can be communicated through other methods such as behaviors, tone of voice and hand gestures, just to name a few.
When using non verbal communication techniques, it is extremely important that both sides be on the same page.
Years ago I saw a fascinating documentary. This documentary discussed how people in different countries use different head and face gestures to communicate. Sometimes these same gestures have the opposite meaning.
For example, in the United States, if a person points his index finger above his ear and makes a circular motion, he is try to convey to people that he believes that something or someone is crazy. But that very same act in China, indicates that the person believes that “the wheel is spinning”, meaning that the person or idea in question is brilliant.
Exactly the same communication technique, very different message. Therefore it is of the utmost importance that both parties be on the same page.
I once heard a story about a US diplomat who was sent to a South American country to do some work there. In anticipation of his arrival, a party was scheduled in his honor and he was asked to speak.
The party was called for 7pm.
The diplomat arrived at 6:45pm and no one is there. The banquet hall isn’t even set up for the function. The diplomat is both confused and angry.
He waits, at 7:30 the hall gets set up.
Still no one is there. His anger becomes worse.
7:30 turns into 9pm, some guests and the organizers start trickling in.
Finally, at 10:15pm the place is full and he is handed the microphone to speak.
The diplomat is furious and insulted. He tries his best to hide his rage and he makes it through his speech.
He immediately buys the first ticket back to the USA and quits his post.
Yet all these South Americans tried to do was show him honor, yet he took it as an insult.
In this particular country, they very much believe in the phrase “the sooner we start, the sooner we finish”. It is considered an insult to start on time, as it shows the speaker that you have no interest in him i.e. you want the speaker done as soon as possible. By having the event start over 3 hours late, the people were trying to show the diplomat much respect, but he took it as an insult.
How to interpret non-verbal communication is a skill that is very hard to grasp. It is especially hard when dealing with two different people from two different backgrounds.
This is one reason why the beginning of any new relationship, whether it be marriage, new job, new friends etc can be so difficult. It takes time to learn how people work and it takes time to decipher each person’s unique set of communication codes.
Kids find it especially hard to crack the code of implicit communication. Therefore, parents should try their best to both assist their children with deciphering the codes that they’ve received as well as trying their hardest to avoid giving their kids new codes to decipher. If you have a message to give your child, try the verbal method as it leaves much less room for error.
Yisroel Picker is a Social Worker who lives in Jerusalem. He has a private practice which specializes in working with people of all ages helping them understand their own thought processes, enabling them to improve their level of functioning, awareness, social skills and more. He also lectures on the topics of communication and child safety.
You can email Yisroel at firstname.lastname@example.org
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