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Theory Information

The academic field of intercultural communication perhaps began with examining similarities and differences in how cultures display and give meaning to different nonverbals (see the foundational work of Hall 1959, 1976, 1982, 1983 ). Nonverbals include the patterns of how individuals and groups use their eyes, hands, voice, space between people, dress, etc., to signify meaning. Intercultural communication is particularly interested in how easy it is to misinterpret others based on misreading patterns and the implications of breaking patterns.


Professional development programs for staff, faculty, and students should be implemented to improve communication and learning. International educators should be able to recognize and adapt to a wide range of nonverbal behaviors in everyday conversations and be able to identify indicators of underlying "conversations" or messages that are being conveyed. Direct communication (low context) should not be held as the standard for conducive and instrumental communication.

In addition, cultural experts should be consulted on the design and/or renovation of physical spaces used by the university community since they may connotate unintentional messages or values to international students who are not able to view them through an American frame.

Programs that are "connected" to Nonverbal Communication theories meet one or more of the following criteria:

  • Program teaches about nonverbal differences.
  • Program accommodates these differences by structuring activities to allow participants to contribute in ways that they feel comfortable with (such as not requiring your own nonverbal preferences to be dominant).
Reflections John Parrish-Sprowl
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