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                                      Module Four: Communication

In module four you will continue to look at behaviors. But in this module, you will look specifically at communication behaviors. In fact, in the first part of the module, you will learn to

RECOGNIZE various styles of communication

In the second part of the module, you will

CLARIFY the relationship between communication, message and behavior.


  • how to self-reflect
  • how to visualize
  • how to compare
  • how to synthesize

Focus Activity: The Message and the Meaning

First, look at each photo. What is the message that each person is “giving” in the photo? Then give a reason for your answer.

Photo A

Photo A


The person seems to be saying, “I….


The reason I think this is: (Give exact description)


Photo B

Photo B


The person seems to be saying, “I….


The reason I think this is: (Give exact description)


Photo C

Photo C


The person seems to be saying, “I….


The reason I think this is: (Give exact description)

After comparing your answers with your classmates, discuss your answers and the following questions with your classmates:

    • 1. What is communication? What is not communication?
    • 2. Think about someone you have known who is a good communicator.

What makes him/her a good communicator? Do you communicate well? Why or why not? Are you better communicating in some situations than in others?


Watch the introduction to Module Four


The Three Channels of Communicating

A simple definition of communication as “the process in which meaning is transmitted from one or more individuals to one or more other individuals” is accurate.However, communication between people is really a very complex process. We communicate constantly, yet rarely pay attention to it. In the focus activity, the people were definitely giving a message even though they were not speaking.Indeed, we are completely unaware of much of our communication. But we can see that there are at least three channels or ways of communicating. They include: (1)nonverbal language, (2) paralanguage and (3) verbal language.

Verbal Language

We are most familiar with verbal language— grammar, vocabulary,pronunciation, reading and writing.They are traditionally taught in language courses and are easily recognized as communication. The other two channels are not as easily recognized as being communication.


Paralanguage includes voice intonation, intensity, speed, silence,and stress. In the following example, we can readily see how meaning shifts when the paralanguage cues change even though the verbal language remains the same.

  1. Come in. (spoken in a matter of fact, even voice)
  2. Come in. (spoken in a loud, rapid, angry tone)
  3. Come in. (spoken as a question in a soft, timorous voice)
  4. Come in. (spoken in a low, suggestive voice)


The importance that paralanguage plays in the communicative process is apparent.

Nonverbal Language

The third communication channel is nonverbal and includes such things as gestures, posture, facial expressions, eye contact, the use of space, or even our dress. Our distance from someone, touching someone—all these behaviors are communication. Students tell the teacher, “We’re tired” or “We’re interested” or “We’re bored” without saying a word. And our nonverbal behavior, because it is largely unconscious, tends to reflect our true feelings. For example, if a student is saying, “I really enjoy your class” but the student’s body is saying, “I’m bored,” the teacher will know that the student is bored. Ray Birdwhistle in his article, “The Language of the Body” says that more than 60% of the social meaning of conversation between Americans is nonverbal while only 2% is verbal. (Birdwhistle, p. 213-214)   If a communicated message can be lost or misinterpreted between friends or family members, the communication across cultures is much more difficult because culture bumps frequently cause confusion.

Cross Cultural Miscommunication

To understand meaning cross culturally becomes even more public, an American shows that he or she has an intimate relationship with someone by the use of space, by being 6 to 18 inches from the other person. (Hall, p. 117).  A Latin American can show friendship by using space in the same way and might show an intimate relationship by frequency of contact rather than the simple use of space. Some White Americans show frankness and openness by direct eye contact while some African Americans show respect by lack of eye contact. While Americans of all ethnicities might show respect by “giving” space to the other individual, in the video, Brian and Aziz, Aziz’s sitting close to Brian was one factor in Brian’s discomfort.Of course, Brian’s distancing himself physically from Aziz fed the Middle Eastern stereotype of “cold Americans”. In these cross-cultural communication situations, the participants are not giving the meaning that they think they are giving, and the other participants are not receiving the meaning that they think they are receiving.Many culture bumps occur when individuals don’t know the paralanguage or nonverbal cues of another language. These culture bumps may lead to perceptions that are not correct—for example,the White American thinking that the African-American is shifty and the African-American perceiving the White American as hostile. The North American thinks that the two Latin American friends are lovers and the Latin American thinks that the North American is cold.The Japanese thinks that the Americans “jump to conclusions”,and the Americans think that the Japanese are untrustworthy.

     Birdwhistle, R. (1974) The Language of the Body.Human Communication: Theoretical Explorations, ed. Albert Silverstein. Lawrence Erlbaum Assoc. pp. 213-214.
     Hall, E. T. (1969). The Hidden Dimension. Doubleday & Company,Garden City, New York.



Now let’s watch a videotape of a conversation with Buki, Josh, Mazen and Katie. Notice the cultural styles and how they “bump” one another. As you watch, think about how polychromic, monochromic, silence and looping styles influence the formation of stereotypes across cultures.

Communication and Culture Bumps

A Reading on Different Styles of Communication in Different Cultures

In addition to cultural differences about time and space, there are at least seven different cultural styles of communication. While there are individual differences in each culture, in general one or two styles will tend to be very common. The styles include looping and non-looping styles, high and low context styles, silent styles and monochromic and polychromic styles. The first step in breaking a cycle of mis-perception is to learn to observe these different styles of communication in ourselves and in others.


Looping Styles

Many cultures, such as Middle Eastern, have “loops” at the beginning of conversations.The pattern looks like this:

      • 0 – Hello
      • 0 – How are you?
      • 0 – How are your mother and father?
      • 0 – How is your class?
      • 0 – It is nice to see you.
      • 0 – So, how are things going?
      • X – By the way, I would like to talk to you about….
      • Aziz wanted to eat and visit before studying. However, Brian preferred to study and then visit which reflected the American culture which, in contrast, has a pattern something like this: 0X000


      • 0 – Hi
      • X – Listen, I need to talk to you about…
      • 0 – By the way, how is your class going….

The small talk at the beginning of the conversation is very “big talk” to Middle Easterners and other cultures while it is a “waste of time” for the American.

High-Context and Low-Context Styles

Still another difference in style of communication is that between high-context and low-context cultures. High-context cultures, like the Japanese, “feel” how other people are. They use all the cues, and rely on their “gut instincts”. Americans,a lower-context culture, rely much more on verbal messages and written communications. If faced with conflicting messages, they will place great emphasis on verbal messages.

Silent Styles

Some cultures, such as Asian, use silence much more than do Western or Middle Eastern cultures. Japanese can wait for up to 20 seconds comfortably in silence while Westerners become uncomfortable after only 7 seconds.Therefore, when an American asks a Japanese a question, the Japanese may take more time to process his or her answer than the American is accustomed to waiting. Americans and others sometimes “jump in” and finish sentences for Japanese and other Asians. The Asian’s silence may be misperceived as unwillingness to answer, shyness or not knowing the answer. On the other hand,the Westerner’s “chattiness” may be misperceived as foolishness by the Asian.Notice how Katie thins before speaking.

Monochronic Versus Polychronic

Still another difference in communication styles concerns monochronic and polychronic time. Monochronic styles have individuals taking turns to speak. The pattern looks like this:


In polychronic styles, individuals speak at the same time and understand several conversations simultaneously.

Successful Cross-Cultural Communication

Once we become aware of different styles of communication in different cultures,we lessen our habit of forming value judgments without knowing why we do so.We notice differences but use them to self-reflect first. So we stop asking, “Why did you smile just then?” Instead we ask ourselves, “Why did I notice that smile just then?’ And then to ask the most important question, “If I smile in order to be friendly, how do you show friendliness in your culture?”

Discussion/Thought Questions—In small groups, consider the following questions:

  1. Which styles do you use in which situations?
  2. Which styles do you favor?
  3. What is your perception of people who use different styles than you do?


An Activity: “GIVE ME A HAND”

In small groups, demonstrate to one another how you give the following messages—non-verbally.

      • “Come here”
      • “Good-bye”
      • “Shame on you”
      • “Counting to ten (using your fingers)”
      • “OK”


Now watch the final segment of the video

In the following comic strip ” Akira and Brian,” identify the culture bumps that the two boys have with each other. Then draw a symbolic culture bump at each of those points. Share your answers with a classmate.

In the second comic strip, “Akira and Maria” identify the culture bumps and draw a symbolic culture bump at each one, and fill in the blank “thought bubbles”for Akira and Maria. Share your answers. With a classmate or on the culture bump forum.




Pheobe the Culture Bump Cat says, “CONGRATULATIONS”—You have completed the fourth stage of your journey.

You can now describe your own and other people’s communication behaviors.You have also practiced visualization, comparing, self-reflection, and synthesizing.