Obama, Reid, and Nonverbal Communication

Posted on January 12, 2010. Filed under: cross cultural communication, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , |

Harry Reid was only stating the obvious—-what you look like and what you sound like have a huge impact on your audience.

93% of communication is nonverbal. The actual words account for only 7% of communication.

How closely your nonverbal style matches someone else’s will affect how well the two of you can communicate. The closer the styles are, the better the communication. Styles that are different are more likely to result in prejudice, conflict, and communication breakdown.

What Reid was saying, basically, is that a White American audience will be receptive to Obama’s appearance (light skinned), and vocal qualities (“no Negro dialect”). People, rightly or wrongly, have expectations and preferences for nonverbal communication. It’s the “Oh, he’s like me” moment that lowers communication barriers.

Biases and prejudice are also grounded in nonverbal communication and body language. People make judgments, both positive and negative, about other cultures’ body language and tone, which then impacts communication.

People who interact with diverse cultures will have greater awareness of different nonverbal communication styles. Those who understand and can use a variety of these styles will have a larger skill set to draw on and greater chance at communication success.

Nonverbal communication includes:

  • facial expression
  • body posture
  • touching
  • movement
  • physical distance
  • hand gestures
  • eye contact
  • grooming/dress
  • Tone and vocal qualities (dialect)

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One Response to “Obama, Reid, and Nonverbal Communication”

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Sensitivity and humility can be communicated non-verbally, which helps a great deal when dealing with others from different cultural backgrounds.


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