The importance of non-verbal communication

More than two-thirds of the negotiations success is determined by non-verbal communication. Therefore it is important to recognize and understand the differences in the use of non-verbal messages, both body interlocutors, especially those who come from different cultures, in order to avoid eventual misunderstandings. Body language can be divided into the following categories: facial expressions, eye contact, gestures, sounds and other gestures.

Facial expressions and eye contact

We are aware that there are numerous cultures all over the world and cultural diversity is something that is fact. Therefore, while meeting people of other culture, we cannot rely on the rituals that we consider to be normal, for in other culture it might have completely opposite meaning and even be offensive, and you do not want to perceive as rude on the first meeting. However, if there is one sign that is universal- it is smile. The smile can be either the sign of happiness or approval or can be the sign of discomfort.

The physical space

The physical space is the space of communication with other people. With some people communicate at a greater distance, while we allow others to get physically somewhat closer. People are generally not aware that each of defends the different parts of his area. The physical space can be the room in which to negotiate. Poorly selected area can greatly affect the quality of the negotiations and the mood of the listener. The need in individuals for individual space varies from culture to culture.

The physical space is a real space in which we negotiate and it is divided among the interlocutors so that everyone has their own space. Negotiations can be on the street, on the bus, and elsewhere, but it seems most in offices or meeting rooms. The room must be appropriate to the size of the group that people would feel uncomfortable and closed.

Psychological space

Psychological space is divided into four zones: an intimate space, personal space, social space and public space. Intimate space usually implies 30 cm from us and we allow only the people we fully trust in that area. Each another’s unauthorized penetration in that area causes an immediate response. Personal space is 30-100 cm around us and the space is later on divided into close and remote personal space. The social space also consists of immediate and distant areas. Area is located close to two meters around us and it is the distance at which most often dealing with personal affairs, talking with friends, colleagues and so on. Remote area is two to four meters and in it places more formal social or business relationships. Public space ranges within four to eight meters around us, while the boundaries further public space go eight or more feet away from us.

Negotiations are usually conducted in social and public space.


Gestures, like closed fist or extended index finger often express aggression or frustrated attitude. Negotiators must avoid that portion of the non-verbal communication unless they are willing to have possible attack as an answer from the negotiating parties. Gestures that would still be avoided and the thumbs-up and connected to the thumb and forefinger (OK sign). These signs have a positive meaning in the UK and the US, but in Iran and Spain raise the thumbs has somewhat offensive and rude meaning. OK symbol in France means “worthless” or “zero”. A nod of the head to the left – right everywhere in the world means negation, but in the countries of SE Asia and Bulgaria means “yes”, as in the confirmation of the opinion.

Crossed legs

It is a gesture that is considered to be more aggressive than previously thought. When the foot is raised and often pointed in the direction of the person with whom you communicate, especially if it is a person from the Middle East and when you see a shoe sole, a participant might feel uncomfortable. According to tradition the body language of Islamic countries “discovered” foot means bad manners, accusing and even threatening gesture. In Europe, however, directing feet toward the person you are talking to means sympathy, closeness and direct address. If you have crossed hands and if you have laid down into the seat, you show signs of bad taste or even defense.

Sounds and nervous indicators

Nervousness sounds, such as throat clearing, sighing or making unpleasant noises are easily recognizable. Playing with coins or keys in your pocket, rocking in chair, breathing sound or snapping fingers, are signs of increasing nervousness. Another subtle indicator of nervousness are finger tapping, trouncing the cloth on which you sit, covering the mouth while speaking or simply not looking at the person when you speak. Some of these gestures may indicate a suspicion. This is evident if the negotiator is furthering away or leaning backward or are in feet facing toward the exit. Other signs are eye rubbing, rubbing the nose and buttoning his jacket or coat for departure.


The inability of negotiators to stick to the agreed time is certainly one of the most significant irritations in intercultural negotiation. Cultures that are less aware of the arrival of accuracy and timing of the meeting often cannot understand America’s obsession with time. And vice versa. Africans believe that not arriving in time is the inevitable result of other commitments that involve family and friends, while westerners have no concept of absolute liability of other cultures to family situations.


The general rule, which must be held by business in foreign countries, is that they must be neatly dressed. Almost everywhere men have a suit and tie. Be patient and accurate, expect to wait and do not show signs of protest or offended. Business women in Islamic countries should wear clothing that covers legs, shoulders and arms to the joints.

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