Discussion: Misunderstandings Misinterpretations

Discussion: Misunderstandings Misinterpretations

Our sense of what nonverbal behavior is appropriate is derived from our culture. Differences in nonverbal communication may lead to misunderstandings, misinterpretations about the person’s character, damaged relationships, conflict, or escalate an existing conflict. For example, people in some cultures attach great superstition to particular numbers, and smiling does not suggest feeling good in all cultures. In some Asian cultures, people tend to smile when they are embarrassed or angry (Carteret, 2011b).

Differences in nonverbal communication can be seen in the following ways:

Voice tone and volume

Pace of speech

Tolerance of silence

Physical distance between speakers

Eye contact


Direct versus indirect approaches

Ways of greeting people

Amount and location of touch

Nonverbal communication can be received in three general ways: (1) the nonverbal message may exist in both cultures but not have the same meaning, (2) the nonverbal message exists in the sender’s culture but not in the receiver’s culture, or (3) the nonverbal message exists in both cultures and has the same meaning. Here are some examples of nonverbal communications that have different meanings in various parts of the world:

In Asian cultures smiling is used to show pleasure, and it also is used to cover emotional pain or embarrassment. When a patient is asked if he or she understands the treatment plan, if the person does not understand he or she may smile to cover embarrassment.

The “ ring” or “ okay” gesture has different meaning in different countries. In the United States and other English-speaking countries, the ring or okay gesture means “ everything is okay.” In Japan it can mean money; in some Mediterranean countries it is used to infer that a man is homosexual; in Indonesia it means zero.

In the United States, getting someone to come toward you by motioning with your index finger is common or acceptable; however, in the Philippines, Korea, and parts of Latin America, as well as other countries, the same gesture is considered to be rude.

In some cultures, direct eye contact is an indication of honestly, listening, and respect. People from some other cultures consider direct eye contact to be rude and feel as though they are being disrespected or challenged; therefore, they may avoid direct eye contact.


You must proofread your paper. But do not strictly rely on your computer’s spell-checker and grammar-checker; failure to do so indicates a lack of effort on your part and you can expect your grade to suffer accordingly. Papers with numerous misspelled words and grammatical mistakes will be penalized. Read over your paper – in silence and then aloud – before handing it in and make corrections as necessary. Often it is advantageous to have a friend proofread your paper for obvious errors. Handwritten corrections are preferable to uncorrected mistakes.

Use a standard 10 to 12 point (10 to 12 characters per inch) typeface. Smaller or compressed type and papers with small margins or single-spacing are hard to read. It is better to let your essay run over the recommended number of pages than to try to compress it into fewer pages.

Likewise, large type, large margins, large indentations, triple-spacing, increased leading (space between lines), increased kerning (space between letters), and any other such attempts at “padding” to increase the length of a paper are unacceptable, wasteful of trees, and will not fool your professor.

The paper must be neatly formatted, double-spaced with a one-inch margin on the top, bottom, and sides of each page. When submitting hard copy, be sure to use white paper and print out using dark ink. If it is hard to read your essay, it will also be hard to follow your argument.

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