You might have heard ‘Actions speak louder than words. This phrase holds great importance when we talk about body language. Sometimes our behavior is not resonating with what we are saying, and sometimes we are unable to control our body gestures in different situations that result in non-verbal communication. Studies have revealed that non-verbal expression has 65 percent to 93 percent more influence than actual communication. This shows how to say something is more important than what to say. Thus it is very important to understand the facts about body language.

Non-Verbal Communication is Culturally Bound

The body language and the non-verbal communication that is universal around the globe are facial expressions. The emotions of sadness, anger, happiness, surprise, disgust and fear are basic emotions of every human being whereas other emotions resonate with the culture. In the west, eye contact is considered respectful. It shows you are confident and you are paying attention to other points of view, but in the Asian and Middle East cultures, Eye contact is avoided because it shows the inappropriate attention of others. Furthermore, hand signals are also perceived differently in different cultures. Thumbs up is the sign of agreement and approval in the USA, but this sign shows insult in Bangladesh and offensiveness in different countries of the Middle East.

Body Language Depicts Emotional and Social Intelligence

The ability and skill to know body language depict emotional and social intelligence. Mayer-Salovey Emotional Intelligence Test is a renowned test that involves reading the emotions of people through their face reading. It suggests the skills to identify emotions and how to use emotions to solve problems. It also directs you to know the causes that lead to specific emotions and how to deal with emotions through thinking. A person who can express his/her own emotions and who can interpret the emotions of others can be successful in personal and professional life.


Context is the words used in communication. This is noticeable when your words are not synchronizing with your emotions. For instance, when you ask someone how he is feeling and he responds ‘I am fine but does not nod his head, it shows inconsistency in his manner so you need to understand the behavior.


At times people are unable to put their feelings into words. These people may have low EQ. Many medical and mental conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease, dementia, and depression render people unable or unwilling to communicate in words. Proper care for such people calls for a good reading of their body language.


Professional success for investigators, detectives, interviewers, immigration officers, and airport security requires high competence in reading body language. They need to be observant while dealing with the people so that they can detect the emotions of deception, anxiety, and fear that lead to further investigation.


To influence others, it is necessary to have good body language and to read the body language of others. CEOs, preachers, parents, and trial lawyers possess this quality of reading the body language and they use their body language appropriately to get the desired result.

How to Learn Body Language?

We are all familiar with the body language used by Americans and Britishers. There might be little cultural nuances but you need to know the gestures and other body language used by other cultures. Waving a hand in some cultures like Croatia is considered very offensive. The people of Croatia believe that waving hands is very close to Hitler’s salute. Relating the gesture of Hi to a defamed person sounds very weird but it is followed in some cultures.

An interesting way to learn non-verbal gesture is to observe the characters in your favorite movies and TV shows. It is a great method to train your ears for a different language for intonation, pronunciation, accents, and vocabulary. You can learn the non-verbal gestures from the acting of your favorite heroes. Another way is to communicate with the native speaker through a webcam so that you can view the body language as they respond to what you say. Let’s have a look at different body gestures as per culture variations.

Eye Contact

Eyes have been romanticized for centuries. People look into others’ eyes to view the emotions of joy, anger, and lust. Eye contact is important in everyday interactions with people. Usually faces with a direct gaze capture our attention. Past studies have shown that Western people look to the face to know about facial expressions. They look into eyes and faces to memorize faces, East Asians also do the same. The difference between both cultures is the perception of emotional strength. East Asians are of the view that individual emotions are more intense than Westerners. People who maintain eye contact are considered confident and attentive in Western culture. Whereas, in Spain, Greece, and Arab countries, this standard only applies in the same gender. Keeping an eye on an opposite-gender is considered inappropriate. In countries like Africa, Asia, and Latin America, avoiding eye contact is a way of submissiveness. Maintaining eye contact in these countries is considered hostile.

Shaking the Head

It is a natural act that if you are unaware of the country and the language of the country then you will nod your head a lot of times. Nodding of the head represents what you are thinking. It is universally known that shaking your head from side to side means No and nodding your head from up to down means Yes. This concept is followed in China, Canada, and Mexico and in various countries of Western Europe and the Middle East. Interestingly, it is the opposite in some regions. For instance, in Greece, Albania and Bulgaria, a head shake means yes, and nodding means no. In Iran, dipping the head down indicates Yes, and jerking the chin upwards means No.


In Europe, Asia, and the Middle East sitting with a cross leg is very common. It is considered unethical and disrespectful to show your sole of shoes to others. Sitting with folded legs in front of elders is also considered disrespectful in many cultures.


When people don’t want to listen to evil things then they try to block the words by putting their hand around or over the ear or tugging at the earlobe. In Portugal, people tug on their earlobes to show that they are enjoying their food. In Spain, it represents that nobody is paying for their drinks. When we talk about the USA, moving your fingers in rotation near your ear means that someone is mad.


The English people tap their nose with the index figure to show that something is confidential. This same gesture means to watch in Italy. In the Western culture, it is accepted to bow your nose into a handkerchief or tissue but in Japan, the same gesture is frowned upon.

Wrapping Up

If you are unaware of the body language then you cannot interpret the message well. You may get offended and annoyed by the wrong interpretation. By learning the body language of foreign culture, people will respect you and your credibility will increase. Understanding their body language can help you understand the minds of other people and can deal with them accordingly.

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