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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How many ways can you quantify?

Posted on April 29, 2009. Filed under: American culture | Tags: , , , , , , |

Obama’s first 100 days are an important milestone. Why? Because 100 is a big, round number!!

Americans love to quantify. Everything. From rating Obamas first 100 days to Time Magazine’s World’s 100 Most Influential People. (Really? Out of 6 billion?) Even Miss USA contestants were judged to the .001 in the swim suit competition. To the thousandth of a point!!  Ridiculous, when, as my son pointed out, “if you cut off all their heads, you couldn’t tell them apart.”

For Americans, the essential quality of anything is its measurability. Everything can, and should,  be measured and quantified. This is often problematic for Americans conducting business in cultures where relationships take precedence.

 If you are American, you probably know how tall the Washington Monument is  (555 feet), or that there are 2.5 children in the typical American family. The idea of 1/2 a kid in a family makes absolutely no sense to many other cultures that believe people are human souls and not statistics.

You may have rated a restaurant or hotel from 1-5 stars and asked a friend “How good do I look in this dress on a scale of 1-10?”  You probably describe your house by square footage, number of bedrooms, and cost, and know your exact height and weight though you probably don’t tell the truth about them. (I look smokin’  from 121-123, good at 125-127, and puffy over 130. I am also 5 feet 4 and 3/4 inches tall)

During those rare times that Americans travel overseas and visit tourist sites, they are likely to ask: How big is it?  How old is it?  How much did it cost? Travelers from other cultures may ask more about history and aesthetics.

Here’s the best part of all of this. The quantification doesn’t even have to make sense.

  Check out how this senator quantifies the stimulus bill. Try your best to make it through all 2 minutes. It’s worth it.


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An extended First Family in the White House

Posted on February 4, 2009. Filed under: American culture, diversity, family, race, women | Tags: , , , , |

How cool is it that President Obama brought his mother-in-law to live in the White House, making our First Family an extended one. The First Grandma has played a key role in raising Malia and Sasha, and was vital to family stability during the primaries, when both parents were often on the road.

Extended families are the norm outside of Western culture, and even in the US, African-, Hispanic-, and Asian-American families very often have an extended family structure.

The Western model of the nuclear family as the ideal  is an outgrowth of a number of factors, including the Industrial Revolution,  emphasis on individualism, and the growth of government services  to replace those traditionally provided by the family.

Extended families lessen the workload for the mother and make child and elder care much easier. It offers children various adult role models and sources of love, and can lessen the tension often found in the overworked parents in today’s nuclear family structure.

How empowering for extended families in the US to see themselves in the First Family. They are no longer the other type of family–the ones who aren’t Ozzie and Harriet.

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