Intercultural Communication: Non- and Verbal Cues


People have different views concerning intercultural communication. Some individuals believe that more interaction between communities of diverse nations would lead to a better understanding between the different cultures. Despite this, there are numerous challenges that exist in intercultural communication (Dupraw & Axner, n.d.). Dupraw and Axner (n.d.) believe that interaction with other people does not necessarily depict communication. Ingram (n.d.) observes that communication barriers across communities have prevailed because people are not informed that they exist in the first place. This essay aims to show that verbal and non-verbal challenges are deeply rooted in the decoding and encoding processes of communication.

Communication Barriers in Intercultural Interactions

Communication style

Communication style affects the way people perceive reality. It is dependent on the culture one is accustomed, such that messages are encoded based on the cultural communication style. Barna (n.d.) asserts that people experience challenges with terminologies, grammar, phrases, slang, and the accent in a foreign language due to the impact of their communication style clashing with that of the new culture. The worst-case scenario is when a person holds on or borrows the meaning of a word in a different community without considering its linguistic context. From personal experience, there was a communication breakdown with a fellow student who could not speak English properly and had to write what he meant down to allow understanding.

Body language

Body language forms the non-verbal aspect of the assignment. It often brings miscommunication due to the different meanings attached to the non-verbal cues from different cultures, such that one has to understand fully the culture involved to encode a message accurately. For example, people from the Middle East find it offensive to show a ‘thumbs up’ gesture. Failing to understand such typical nonverbal signs in the context of the culture one is in is a huge communication obstacle. Understanding the differences between the interacting cultures can solve the communication barrier.


On the other hand, stereotypes are a significant challenge to intercultural communication because they are used in a cultural context to stigmatize a certain group of people. Stereotypes are used in a negative way in most cases. Thus, they have to be decided and encoded in exact cultural context to avoid offending (Holmes, 2015).

The tendency to evaluate

The tendency to evaluate also causes challenges of intercultural communication because evaluations are mostly made with the individual’s cultural affiliation and not that of the person being assessed. Evaluating ideas and cultures make people skeptical. In so doing, it makes them tenser in intercultural integration. Judging one’s actions as good prohibits the unbiased attention required to understand the perception and behavior patterns of other people (Dupraw & Axner, n.d.). Other practices that do not conform to the personal behavior are always seen as wrong. Communication is, thus, disrupted severely when feelings and emotions are implicated in a situation where much of listening and empathizing is required.

High anxiety

Anxiety caused by the new environment and the new culture can build up communication barriers in intercultural communication by creating communication blocks. The aspect of high anxiety is common with outlanders because of the uncertainty of the new environment (Barna, n.d.). Moreover, cultural differences between nations cause more anxiety because individuals do not know how they should respond to other cultures or how people in the host country will respond to their lifestyle. People are also anxious when communicating with foreigners because they cannot sustain the normal flow of speech (Levine & Wolff, n.d.).

Ways of completing tasks

The different ways of completing tasks can ignite arguments in intercultural communications because they communicate non-verbal aspects, such as time and space. These issues carry different meanings in different cultures; thus, they have to be encoded along the ideas of one culture in order to be understood by all the parties involved. Different cultures use varying methods of completing tasks because of the differences in resources, opinions on the benefits associated with the task, and the significance of teamwork when accomplishing a particular task (Dupraw & Axner, n.d.). For example, Asians may first work on strengthening the team and then completing the task later, while the Americans may opt to accomplish the task first and then build relationships later. Such differences can lead to poor communication if they are not understood and appreciated.

Personal Experience

I have experienced a communication breakdown with a Chinese student who did not understand English. When he spoke, it was very difficult to understand what he meant because his pronunciation of most words was incorrect. This led to a misinterpretation of the whole conversation. He was irritated because he did not get the response he needed. He was forced to write down what he meant to say to solve his challenge in the language. The personal experience proves that communication style is important when interacting with other cultures. He opted for writing because he could not speak well.


Various obstacles can cut off communication in a multicultural setting. These obstacles can be nonverbal or verbal signs. Communication obstacles include communication style, body language, high anxiety, the stereotype, the tendency to evaluate, and ways of completing tasks, and nonverbal signs, such as gestures, posture, and management of time. Therefore, people need to understand the culture and communication process of each culture in order to overcome the communication breakdown in a cultural setting.


Barna, L. (n.d.). Intercultural communication stumbling blocks. Portland, OR: Portland University

Dupraw, M., & Axner, M. (n.d.). Working on common cross-cultural challenge. New York, NY: AMPU

Holmes, P. (2015). ‘The cultural stuff around how to talk to people’: immigrants’ intercultural communication during a pre-employment work-placement. Language & Intercultural Communication, 15(1), 109-124

Ingram, P. (n.d.). An overview of diversity awareness. State College, PA: Penn State University

Levine, R. & Wolff, E. (n.d.). Social time: The heartbeat of culture. Fresno: California State University

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