Physicality and Intercultural Communication. A new Definition of Body Language

Text by Roberta Rio – Villach – 2013

Body, language, body language.
These are three large interconnected topics which are far more complex and fascinating in the area of intercultural communication than they already are when considered separately.

In child development, language acquisition and motor development take place pretty much at the same time. In this phase, we learn our native language and during this time, it is a good idea to learn a foreign language as well. Once motor development is completed, learning a language other than our native language is always difficult.
From this fact, we can conclude that language and the body, particularly the body in motion, are in close contact with each other.

Language is a means of exchange.
Language arises from the human need to express ourselves and to share our thoughts, ideas, feelings and emotions with others. It can allow us to enter into relationships with others and is an instrument which can separate and at the same time unite.
But words alone are not communication.
Studies show that only 7% of communication is verbal. This means that most of the messages we send to the external world are non-verbal in nature and that we are often not aware of them.

The body plays an important role in communication.
What are we telling the world around us through our postures, gestures, facial expressions, voice, looks and the physical distance between ourselves and others?
The congruence between our verbal and nonverbal communication defines our credibility, our authenticity and the effectiveness of our communication.

We can do quite a bit to “train” linguistic expression to use it for our purposes. But if this effort is not supported by physical expression, it loses its authenticity and even the most “perfect” of words can be nullified by a single gesture. Of the two communicative expressions, we automatically feel that the body is “true”. The saying, “the body does not lie” is well known.
It is a kind of non-rational perception which takes place on a deeper level than verbal communication.

Internationally, this is much more complicated. Even at a linguistic level, there are many risks of being misunderstood or even not understood at all. However, this applies even more to non-verbal communication, as this is often the result of different cultural influences which we are subject to.

Observation is at the beginning of this journey. It trains your ability to listen to yourself and others. The complexity of the discoveries during this first step and the amazement about it lead to a more tolerant attitude towards one’s neighbor and otherness in general.

This book comes from personal experience.
From life experiences that have allowed me, and still allow me each day, to deal with other cultures and languages, to pay special “attention” to the physical body and to observe and understand its message.
And of course, from seminars I’ve conducted on this subject, where I have collected data and information through practice, moments of sympathy, through observation and investigation – and sometimes through the implementation of theories – which have all contributed to the writing of this book.