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Human Encounters

Introduction to Intercultural Communication

Oyvind Dahl

This book gives a comprehensive introduction to intercultural communication. The reader is introduced to essential concepts in the field, different theories and methods of analysing communication, the importance of verbal and nonverbal languages for bringing about mutual understanding and, finally, the ethical challenges that arise.

The volume also has a practical aspect. The author discusses subjects such as handling encounters with people using foreign languages; incorporating different life styles and world views; the use of interpreters, non-familiar bodylanguage; different understandings of time; relocation in new settings; the use of power and how to deal with cultural conflicts generally.

Published as a general textbook in English for the first time following a very successful original edition in Norwegian, also translated to Russian and French, this richly-illustrated book offers a refreshing and engaging introduction to intercultural understanding

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CHAPTER 8 Nonverbal Communication: Body Language

Extract

The businessman in the illustration makes several serious mistakes in front of the Arab (try to find them!). Another Western businessman was negotiating a contract in Japan and the Japanese colleague smiled and nodded, so the Westerner understood that everything was in order. At no point during the conversation did the Japanese businessman express any disagreement concerning the proposed contract. Only several weeks afterwards did he realize that the Japanese client had not agreed with half of the proposed conditions.

A Norwegian woman, who served as a journalist in Indonesia, was standing upright while talking with a guest. Without being conscious of it, she put her hands on her hips while speaking. The reaction was immediate as the guest withdrew showing signs of having been insulted. Further communication was impossible.

The cases show two things. First, that nonverbal language plays an important role in intercultural interpersonal communication. Some scientists contend that 50–80 per cent of the information transmitted during a communication is conveyed using nonverbal signs and signals. Second, nonverbal signs have different meanings in different societies. While a Norwegian does not attach special meaning to someone putting their hands on their hips, this was an expression of haughtiness and arrogance – an insulting gesture – in Indonesian culture.

Many people assume that “language without words” is international. But this is far from being the case. As we have seen, sign language used by deaf people is also not understood by the deaf in other...

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