Skip to main content
It looks like you're using Internet Explorer 11 or older. This website works best with modern browsers such as the latest versions of Chrome, Firefox, Safari, and Edge. If you continue with this browser, you may see unexpected results.

Rubric: Intercultural Competence - Global Citizenship Program


  • Approximately 90% of communication is through nonverbal means.

  • Nonverbal communication differs from verbal communication in two ways:  It is more unconscious and is learned implicitly.

  • It can reinforce, substitute for, or contradict verbal communication.

  • Nonverbal codes include facial expressions, eye contact (oculesics), gestures, time management (chronemics), silence, space (proxemics), touch (haptics), senses (sensorics), tone and intonation (paralanguage).

  • Sometimes cultural differences in nonverbal behaviors can lead to stereo-typing others. (such as slurping food to indicate the food tastes good)

  • Cultural space influences cultural identity and includes homes, neighborhoods, regions, and nations.  (Do we share bedrooms with our siblings; bed with our parents; are friends invited into our homes and if so, into every room; do we build walls around our houses; how close to we feel comfortable standing or sitting near others, etc)

Discussion questions

1-How does nonverbal communication differ from verbal communication?


2-What are some of the messages that we communicate through our nonverbal behaviors?


3-Which nonverbal behaviors, if any, are universal?


4-How do our cultural spaces affect our identities?


5-What role does power play in determining our cultural spaces?


1-Cultural Spaces.  Think about the different cultural spaces in which you participate (clubs, churches, concerts, and so on).  Select one of these spaces and describe when and how you enter and leave.  As a group, discuss the answers to the following questions:

 a-Which cultural spaces do may students share?  Which are not shared by many students? 

b-Which cultural spaces, if any, are denied to some people? 

c-What factors determine whether a person has access to a specific cultural space?


2-Nonverbal Rules.  Choose a cultural space that you are interested in studying.  Visit the space on four occasions to observe how people there interact.  Focus on one aspect of nonverbal communication (e.g., eye contact or proximity).  List some rules that seem to govern this aspect of nonverbal communication.  For example, if you are focusing on proximity, you might describe, among other things, how far apart people tend to stand when conversing.  Based on your observations, list some prescriptions about the proper (expected) nonverbal behavior in this cultural space.  Share your conclusions with the class. 


3- Nonverbal messages. Have the class watch a segment of a sitcom with the volume off.  Ask the class to discuss what they believe the situation to be from the nonverbal messages they see?  Watch it a second time with the volume on and see how close they were to understanding the situation.  Do the same with a segment of a soap opera or a movie (such as Dead Poets Societywhere space, or lack of, with the different professors shows how authoritarian they feel


4-How others see us. Have students go to an expensive store twice.  Once very well dressed and another not so.  How were they treated in each case by the store employees?


5-Intonation. Read the following same sentence changing the intonation (italicized word) and see how the meaning of the sentence changes.  This is much easier for native speakers to understand.

 John loves Mary.  (statement) 

John loves Mary?  (I thought it was Ann….) 

John loves Mary?  (no way…..) 

John loves Mary?  (I thought it was Bob….)


6-Send messages. Have students demonstrate how the following nonverbal send messages:

haptics (touching, or not, someone; how we touch, where we touch, who we can touch)

sensorics (use of perfume, baking cookies when trying to sell a house, etc)

chronemics (arriving late what does it mean in different cultures?)

paralanguage (tone)

oculesics (when you look into someone’s eyes – what does it mean?  Does it mean the same everywhere?)


7-Emojis. Why do we find it important today when texting to use emojis?  Have you ever been misunderstood or have you misunderstood someone through e-mail or text?  Why?

8-Non-verbal vocalized (grunts and other non-verbal sounds, including sighs and sharp intake of air) Again, this will only work with a multinational class. Ask individuals from different countries if there are any non-verbal but vocalized sounds which are often used to communicate a particular meaning. Ask them to give a demonstration of that sound. Then other students can try to guess the meaning. Perhaps more interesting, other students might find that the sound is also used in their own culture to indicate a similar meaning (I have found that myself comparing Kenyans with Austrians in inter-personal communication in a socializing situation.)

-Gestures. Again, this is for a multinational class. Have students compare gestures (nodding/shaking the head, movements with hands, arms, etc) which are well known in individual cultures to carry a certain meaning. A student demonstrates the gesture, others guess the meaning.  For example:

--thumbs up means different things in different cultures

--shaking the head in some cultures can mean ‘yes’ and in India it’s a head wobble

--In British culture, you give someone the finger using the back side of the first and second fingers in a V shape; curiously, the reverse of that sign means victory.)

10-Sense of time. Stereotypically, Latin Americans are known for their loose timekeeping (late to start work, long preliminaries/socializing in business negotiations before getting down to details, etc) and North Americans and Germans for being punctual, both in starting and finishing things. Bearing in mind that this is just a stereotype, but might have some bearing on reality, put students in groups to discuss a business situation between a US and a Latin American firm (e.g. delegations negotiating a deal). Students have to come up with (a) situations in which different senses of time could cause problems and (b) ways to avoid those problems.

11-Body language.  For an imaginary cocktail party, the instructor makes cards with either a U.S. or Latin American identify and distributes them to individual students. Each student gets a partner who represents the opposite (a U.S. student is partnered with a Latin American student). When the cocktail party begins, students pair up with their designated partners. Students have to role play a conversation for a specified period of time (a few minutes). Beforehand, the class has discussed differences in US and Latin American body language. The stereotype is that Latin Americans expect close physical proximity in socializing situations, as well as body contact at times. Extended eye contact is also normal. On the other hand US Americans like to have at least a meter and a half distance between interlocutors and find it uncomfortable to stare someone in the eye for a longer period of time. Touching is not expected, either.

12-Posture. Research which body postures could send a suggestive message in certain cultures (e.g.sitting with the soles of your feet pointing at someone can be offensive in certain cultures).

13-Greetings and goodbyes. Research cultural differences in greetings and goodbyes – long handshakes versus short ones, kissing on one cheek, on both cheeks or three times (as in Serbia), men kissing on cheeks, no body contact at all between the sexes, bowing the head, placing the bent arm over the chest, raising the open palm of the hand, etc. Are any of these class-based or age-based as well as cultural?

14-Silence. Some cultures (Japanese) silence is part of the dialogue, whereas for Europeans and Americans it makes an uncomfortable social situation. With American students, discuss the types of situation in which silence could be uncomfortable and the reasons why this might be so. (The idea that, with new acquaintances, to ping-pong something back and forth verbally is necessary to establish common ground contrasts with silently appreciating the presence of someone else.)