People learn a great deal about us based on how we choose to present ourselves through our choices in clothing and personal grooming, our use of touching, a person and the way we treat time.
Clothing and Personal Grooming
Choice of clothing and personal grooming will communicate a message, Determine what message you want to send, and then dress and groom yourself accordingly. Lawyers and business managers understand the power of dress Akkad grooming quite well. For instance, an attorney knows that a person charged with drug peddling would be foolish to show up in the courtroom wearing the local gang starter jacket, heavy gold chains, oversize pants, end a backward facing baseball cap. Similarly, business managers periodically adjust their dress codes to make sure they are reflective of the image they want their business to project. For instance, many have been rethinking their decisions about “casual dress days. As George Ge yer (1999) pointed out in an editorial, Kern Ferry International, the nation’s largest executive search firm, experimented all summer with five day a week casual. Finally, it declared the experiment a failure, because. We found that casual dress fostered a casual attitude.
Many young people consciously choose’ clothing styles and personal grooming behaviors that stretch Western norms of acceptability. From retro fashions to hip hop styles, from blue hair and nail colors to dreadlocks and Hawks, from tattooing to body piercing, more and more people are choosing to use their clothing and appearance to differentiate themselves from some groups an.d to identify closely with others.
Each of us has the right to express our individuality and to communicate our political feelings in our dress and personal grooming, but we must recognize that doing so sends messages that can create barriers as well as bonds. Part of being a skilled communicator is realizing that the meaning of clothing and grooming depends as much on receivers’ perceptions as on our own intentions.
Poise refers to assurance of manner. As much as 20 percent of the population experience a high degree of nervousness when encountering strangers, speaking in groups, and in public-speaking settings (Richmond & McCroskey, 1995, p. 35). For most people, nervousness decreases as they gain confidence in their ability to function well in the particular setting. Mastery of the skills discussed in the next three parts of this text should help you cope with the’ nervousness you might face in differing communication situations.
Through touch (the use of hands, arms, and other body parts to pat, hug, slap, kiss, pinch, stroke, hold, embrace, and tickle) we communicate a variety of meanings. In Western culture, we shake hands to be sociable and polite, we pat a person on the back for encouragement, we hug a person to show love, and we clasp raised hands to demonstrate solidarity. Our touching can be gentle or firm, perfunctory or passionate, brief or lingering. And how we touch can communicate our power, our empathy, or our understanding.
People differ in their touching behavior and in their reactions to unsolicited touch from others. Some people like to touch and be touched; other people do not. Women rend to touch others less than men do, but women value touching more than men do. Women view touch as an expressive behavior that demon states warmth and affiliation. Men view touch as instrumental behavior for example, touching females is considered a prelude to sexual activity (Pearson, West, & Turner, 1995, p. 142).
Although U.S. culture is relatively non contact oriented, the kinds and amounts of touching behavior within our society vary widely. Touching behavior that seems innocuous to one person may be perceived to be overly intimate or threatening to another. Touch that is perceived to be OK in private may embarrass a person when done in public or with a large group of people. What you communicate by touching may be perceived positively or negatively. Thus, if you want to be perceived as sensitive and caring, it is a good idea to ask the other before touching.
A less obvious aspect of our self-presentation is how we manage and react to others’ use and management of what Edward T. Hall (1959) calls informal time, including duration, activity, and punctuality.
Duration is the amount of time that we regard as appropriate for certain -0 events or activities. For instance, we may think a sermon should last twenty minutes and a typical class fifty minutes. When the duration of that event or activity differs significantly from our expectations, we begin to attribute meaning to that difference. For example, if we are told that our job interview will take one hour and it is over in twenty minutes, we may conclude that we didn’t get the job. Similarly, if the interview stretches to two hours, we may believe we are in strong contention for the job. Because our use of time creates its own meanings, we need to be sensitive to polite conventions about the appropriate duration of events and activities.
Activity refers to what people perceive should be done in a given time period. Many of us work during the day, sleep at night, eat a light meal around midday, and so on. When someone engages in behavior at a time that we deem inappropriate, we are likely to react negatively. For instance, Susan, who prides herself on being available to her employees, may well be put off when Sung Lei calls her at home during the dinner hour to discuss a presentation that is to be delivered at the-end of the month. Sung Lei may think she is presenting herself as organized an’d interested in her work, but Susan may view this interruption as rude and insensitive.
Punctuality is the extent to which one strictly adheres to the appointed or regular time. In many respects, it may be the dimension of time catharsis most clops related to self-presentation. If you make an appointment to meet your professor in her office at 10 a.m., her opinion of you may differ depending on whether you arrive at 9:50, at 10:00, at 10:10, or at 10:30. Similarly, opinion of her will whether she is appointed . In the United States, strict punctuality is a dominant cultural inoperative. When a date is made or an appointment set, one is normally expected to be prompt or risk having early or late arrival interpreted as meaningful.
Cultural Variations in Self Presentation
Just as the meaning of body motions and para language are culturally determined, so too are self presentation behaviors.
Touch According to Gudykunst and Kim (1997), differences in touching behavior are highly correlated with culture. In some cultures, lots of contact and touching is normal behavior, whereas in other cultures, individual space is respected and frequent touching is not encouraged. People in high contact cultures evaluate close as positive and good, and evaluate far as negative and bad. People in low contact cultures evaluate close as negative and bad, and far as positive and good. Latin American and Mediterranean countries are high contact cultures, northern European cultures are medium to low in contact, and Asian cultures are for the most part low-contact cultures. As you can imagine then, the United States, which is a country of immigrants, is generally perceived to be medium contact, although there are wide differences between individual Americans due to family heritage.
Time A particularly important area of differences concerns perceptions of time. Countercultures, like the dominant culture of the United States, view time chronologically; that they see time as compartmental, irreversible, and one dimensional. Time is a scarce resource to be spent,saved, and budgeted. As a result, in the United States, being even a few minutes late may require you to acknowledge your lateness. Being ten to fifteen minutes late usually requires an apology, and being more than thirty minutes late is likely to be perceived as an insult requiring a great seal of explanation to earn the person’s forgiveness.
People from other cultural backgrounds, such as those from Latin America, Asia, or the Middle East, tend to view time poly chronically, a view that sees time as continuous and involves engaging in several activities at the same time. To those following a poly chronic view of time, the concept of being late has no meaning. One arrives when one has completed what came before. In Latin American or Arab cultures, for instance, it is not unusual for either person to be more than thirty minutes late, and Heine is likely to expect or offer an apology. Although the dominant culture:in the United States is monochromatic in the extreme, within some of our Americana or African American subcultures a poly chromatic view of time still influences behavior.
Communication through Management of Your Environment
In addition to the way we use body motions, para language, and self presentation cues, we Communicate non verbally through the physical environment in which our conversations occur, including the space we occupy, the temperature of the surroundings, the lighting levels, and the colors used in the interior decorations.
As a study, space includes permanent structures, the movable objects within space, and informal space.
Management of permanent structures Permanent structures arc the buildings in which we live and work and the parts of those buildings that cannot he moved not have much control over their creation, we do exercise control in our selection of them. For instance, when you rent an apartment or buy a condominium or a home, you consider whether or not it is in tune with your lifestyle. People who select a fourth-floor loft may view themselves differently from those who select one room inefficiencies. Doctors, lawyers, and other professionals usually search with care to find homes that fit the image they want to communicate.
In addition, specific features affect our communication within that environment. For instance, people who live in apartment buildings are likely to become better acquainted with neighbors who live across the hall and next door than with those who live on other floors. Similarly, people who share common space such as laundry facilities or garages are more likely to become acquainted than those who do nor.
Management of movable objects within space Whether the space is a dormitory room, a living room, a seminar room, or a classroom, we have the opportunity to arrange and rearrange movable objects to achieve the effect we want. For example, a manager’s office arranged so that the manager sits behind the desk and the employee chair is on the other side of that desk says, Let’s talk business I’m the boss and you’re the employee. In contrast, if the employee chair is at the side of the desk (creating an absence of a formal barrier), the arrangement says, Don’t be nervous let’s just chat.
Management of: informal space Managing informal space includes the space around us at.the moment. In the dominant U.S. culture, four distinct distances represent what most people consider appropriate or comfortable in various situations (Hall, 1969).
• Intimate distance, up to eighteen inches, is appropriate for private conversations between close friends.
• Personal distance, from eighteen inches to four feet, is the space in which casual conversation occurs.
• Social distance, from four to twelve feet, is where; impersonal business such as job interviews is conducted.
• Public distance is anything more than twelve feet.
Of greatest concern to us is the intimate distance, that which we regard as appropriate for intimate conversation with close friends, parents, and younger children. If you have become uncomfortable because a person you were talking with was standing too close to you, you are already aware of how attitudes toward intimate space influence people’s conversation. People usually become uncomfortable when “outsiders” violate this intimate distance.
Intrusions into our intimate space are acceptable only in certain settings and then only when all involved follow the unwritten rules. For instance, people will tolerate being packed into a crowded elevator or subway and even touching others they do not know provided the others follow such rules as standing rigidly, looking at the floor or the indicator above the door, and not making eye contact with others. Only occasionally will people who are forced to invade each other’s intimate space acknowledge the other.as a person. Then they are likely to exchange sheepish smiles or otherwise acknowledge the mutual invasion of intimate distance. In the Spotlight on Scholars, we feature Judee Bur goon, who has focused a great deal of her research on the effects of such intrusions into our intimate space. Her findings develop and test what she calls “expectancy violation theory.
Interpersonal problems occur when one person’s use of space violates the behavioral expectations of another. Unfortunately, sometimes one person intentionally violates the space expectations of another, When the violation is between members of the opposite sex, it can be considered sexual harassment. Don may, through consolations of informal space, posture, movements, or gestures, appear on to Dormice. If Donnie does not welcome the attention, she may feel threatened. In this case, Dan’s nonverbal behavior can be construed as sexual harassment. To avoid perceptions of harassment, people need to be especially sensitive to others’ definitions of intimate space.
Our intimate or personal space moves when we move, but we also seek to claim other space whether we currently are occupying it or not. That is, we are likely to look at certain space as our territory, as space over which we may claim ownership. If Marcia decides to eat lunch at the company commissary, the space at the table she selects becomes her territory. Suppose that during lunch Marcia leaves her territory to get butter for her roll. The chair she left, the food on the table, and the space around that food are hers, and she will expect others to stay away. If, when she returns, Marcia finds that someone at the table has moved a glass or a dish into the area that she regards as her territory, she is likely to feel resentful.
Many people stake out their territory with markers. For example, Ramon arrives early for the first day of class, finds an empty desk, puts his backpack at the side on the floor, and puts his coat on the seat. He then makes a quick trip to the restroom. If someone comes along while Ramon is gone, moves his backpack and coat and sits down at the desk, that person is violating what Ramon has marked as his territory.
As a student of nonverbal communication, you understand, however, that other people may not look at either the space around you or your territory in quite the same way as you do. Even though the majority of U.S. residents have learned the same basic rules governing the management of space, this does not mean that everyone shares the same respect for the rules or treats the consequences of breaking the rules in the same way.