intercultural negotiation working communication

Consonances and Dissonances Between Linguistic and Non-Verbal Styles

© Article translated from the book “Negoziazione interculturale, comunicazione oltre le barriere culturali” (Intercultural Negotiation: Communication Beyond Cultural Barriers) copyright Dr. Daniele Trevisani Intercultural Negotiation Training and Coaching, published with the author’s permission. The Book’s rights are on sale and are available for any Publisher wishing to consider it for publication in English and other languages except for Italian and Arab whose rights are already sold and published. If you are interested in publishing the book in English, or any other language, or seek Intercultural Negotiation Training, Coaching, Mentoring and Consulting, please feel free to contact the author from the webstite www.danieletrevisani.com 

Negative Non-Verbal Signals from the Interlocutor (Tension, Disinterest)

Non-verbal communication can reinforce the verbal message or be dissonant with it. Listening carefully and nodding can signal interest much more than just a verbal statement. Saying “I am interested” with words and expressing boredom or disgust with body actions produces a dissonant signal and creates suspicion or irritation. The coherence (matching) between words and actions:

  • increases the perceived honesty of the subject;
  • denotes trustworthiness;
  • shows interest;
  • shows that we are in control of the situation;
  • produces a sense of security and solidity of the contents.
    On the contrary, the incongruity:
  • creates a sense of distrust;
  • generates feelings of lack of authenticity;
  • produces doubts and suspicions of falsehood on the verbal contents heard.

Each linguistic style (on an interpersonal level) is associated with a precise modulation of the non-verbal style. We can in fact have:

  • situations of communicative reinforcement (the non-verbal style reinforces the verbal style);
  • situations of dissonance or inconsistency between verbal and non-verbal: non-verbal communication proceeds on a different register than verbal communication).

The dissonances concern every semiotic system, every sign carrying possible meanings. A company that declares itself important and does not have a website, or has an amateur site, expresses an image dissonance, just as a negotiator forgets to bring essential tools with him (catalogs, calculators, and any other necessary and expected tool ).

Non-verbal signals may indicate that the interlocutor is following the dialogue with a positive or negative attitude. Negative reactions in general are denoted by:

  • angulations of the body: shoulders retracted, distancing;
  • face: tense, shows anger;
  • voice: negative tone, sudden silences;
  • hands: movements of refusal or disapproval, tense movements;
  • arms: straight, crossed on the chest;
  • legs: crossed or moving away at an angle.

Exercises of consonance and dissonance between verbal styles and non-verbal communication styles. Initiate a dialogue on a random theme (e.g. where it is more pleasant to take holidays) and express – only through body postures – the following meanings:

  • I can’t stand you, you give me physical annoyance;
  • you are nice;  my head is elsewhere, I find it hard to follow you, I am distracted;
  • I have doubts about your honesty.
    Second phase of the exercise. Let’s now modulate the styles, introducing some variations:
  • verbal expression: saying “I can’t stand you, you give me physical annoyance”, with non-verbal reinforcement (eg: grinding your teeth, clenching your fists);
  • verbal expression: “I can’t stand you, you give me physical annoyance”, with non-verbal dissonance (eg: smiling amiably).
    Following the scheme shown:
  • Verbal expression: “you are nice”, with non-verbal reinforcement;
  • verbal expression: “you are nice”, with dissonance in the non-verbal;
  • verbal expression “I have my head elsewhere, I find it difficult to follow you, I am distracted”, with non-verbal reinforcement;
  • verbal expression “I have my head elsewhere, I find it hard to follow you, I am distracted”, with non-verbal dissonance;
  • verbal expression “I have doubts about your honesty”, with non-verbal reinforcement;
  • verbal expression “I have doubts about your honesty”, with dissonance in the non-verbal.
Intercultural Negotiation Arab Edition

© Article translated from the book “Negoziazione interculturale, comunicazione oltre le barriere culturali” (Intercultural Negotiation: Communication Beyond Cultural Barriers) copyright Dr. Daniele Trevisani Intercultural Negotiation Training and Coaching, published with the author’s permission. The Book’s rights are on sale and are available for any Publisher wishing to consider it for publication in English and other languages except for Italian and Arab whose rights are already sold and published. If you are interested in publishing the book in English, or any other language, or seek Intercultural Negotiation Training, Coaching, Mentoring and Consulting, please feel free to contact the author from the webstite www.danieletrevisani.com 

For further information see:

intercultural negotiation working communication

Body Language

© Article translated from the book “Negoziazione interculturale, comunicazione oltre le barriere culturali” (Intercultural Negotiation: Communication Beyond Cultural Barriers) copyright Dr. Daniele Trevisani Intercultural Negotiation Training and Coaching, published with the author’s permission. The Book’s rights are on sale and are available for any Publisher wishing to consider it for publication in English and other languages except for Italian and Arab whose rights are already sold and published. If you are interested in publishing the book in English, or any other language, or seek Intercultural Negotiation Training, Coaching, Mentoring and Consulting, please feel free to contact the author from the webstite www.danieletrevisani.com 

From Facial Expressions to Body Movements

The body speaks, expresses emotions and feelings. Even attempts to block these emotions and feelings are themselves “meta messages”, seeing a person expressing no emotion, acting as an “emotional mummy“, is itself a signal that leads to specific reflections. Body language concerns:

  • facial expressions and facial expressions;
  • nods of the head;
  • the movements of the limbs and gestures;
  • body movements and distances;
  • touch and physical contact.

Cultural differences on these points can be very large. Cultures vary a lot on the type of gestures. In an Italian-Chinese negotiation, clear differences can be seen between the Italian gestures (on average wider) and the Chinese one, more contained, as well as in the facial expressions, more evident for Italy and more contained for China.

A negotiator operating in China can therefore choose to contain their gestures and their emotional expression, to “dampen” the stereotypical image associated with their culture, or rather increase it theatrically, to “play a part” and amplify their stereotypical identity. . There are no golden rules on what is best to do, each choice is strategic and linked to the context of the moment, to “contextual appropriateness“.

Physical contact is one of the most critical and difficult elements to deal with on an intercultural level. While some Western standards of physical contact are spreading throughout the business community (eg: shaking hands), each culture expresses a different degree of contact in greetings and interactions. Managing hugs, kisses, touching the body, knowing who can touch whom, remains a difficult point, to be solved above all by resorting to an analysis of the local culture. In general, if it is not possible to gather accurate information from local culture experts, it is advisable to limit physical contact in order not to generate a sense of invasiveness.

Personal Distances

Proxemics defines “the observations and theories concerning the use of human space, understood as a specific elaboration of culture” (Hall, 1988). In his studies, Hall highlights how distances are a highly cultural elaboration, and are managed by each culture in a different way. On the negotiation front, the implications are numerous: being close to or far from the interlocutor is a precise negotiating message.

Standing in front or to the side, or even on the same side, is another form of message. Every culture has unwritten rules for delimiting the boundaries of acceptability of interpersonal distances and people’s dispositions. Also in this case, the principle of resorting to the knowledge of experts of the local culture is valid, while a valid rule in case of lack of knowledge is to let the counterpart define their own degree of distance, without forcing neither an approach nor a removal.

The main awareness to develop is that of the “critical distance” (Hall), which defines the interpersonal distance within which a subject feels vulnerable, exposed to the risks of aggression. Human critical distances have an animal basis and a strong cultural variance, with Arab and Latin cultures often more “close” and Anglo-Saxon cultures very “distant”.

Personal distance is like “an invisible bubble that surrounds the body” Beyond the intra-cultural rules, some attitudes relating to distances are transversal to cultures because they are anchored to the human animal root. For example, “leaving your seat”, giving space to someone, is a tool for assigning status and recognizing the importance of the interlocutor. As Hall points out: stronger, superior individuals tend to establish greater personal distances than the specimens occupying lower positions in the social hierarchy, while it is known that weaker, subordinate animals give way to superior animals.

Therefore, at an intercultural level, “leaving the place” will be a move towards rapprochement, a recognition of status. For the conscious negotiator, it is not to be understood as pure submission, but it can also take on the function of a tactical move, an act of relational courtesy that precedes the actual negotiation confrontation. Making people uncomfortable, on the contrary, is used to establish great distances.

Some negotiators use tactics specifically aimed at upsetting the emotional balance of the subject, making people wait in excessively hot and narrow waiting rooms, without bathrooms or with distant services, for a long time – it is an example of a breakthrough move. Especially when the subject has made a long journey, the temptation to leave will be blocked by the thought of having made a useless journey, and of any repercussions.

The appropriate tactic is to require a higher degree of comfort, but only if you have the almost mathematical certainty that a specific move is underway, and those are not the real maximum reception conditions that the subject is able to offer. The frontal disposition of people is generally considered confrontational, while on the side it is considered more collaborative, and on the same side “between equals“. As Hall points out, “every animal needs a critical space, without which its survival is impossible”. In terms of negotiations, the space to be considered is both environmental and psychological.

Intercultural Negotiation Arab Edition

© Article translated from the book “Negoziazione interculturale, comunicazione oltre le barriere culturali” (Intercultural Negotiation: Communication Beyond Cultural Barriers) copyright Dr. Daniele Trevisani Intercultural Negotiation Training and Coaching, published with the author’s permission. The Book’s rights are on sale and are available for any Publisher wishing to consider it for publication in English and other languages except for Italian and Arab whose rights are already sold and published. If you are interested in publishing the book in English, or any other language, or seek Intercultural Negotiation Training, Coaching, Mentoring and Consulting, please feel free to contact the author from the webstite www.danieletrevisani.com 

For further information see: