In half of communication is nonverbal, so of

In this lesson, explore the ways in which nonverbal taboos can influence communication, and discover some common examples. Then test your understanding with a brief quiz.

Nonverbal Taboos

Don’t do that. Why not? Because it’s not polite. In the world of communication, some things are simply rude. Call someone a name? That’s mean.

Make a sarcastic comment? Rude. Laugh when someone trips on a banana peel? Okay, well, that sounds kinda funny, but most likely would be seen as impolite.Something that evokes a breach of good manners is called a taboo and every culture has ’em. In terms of communication, taboos can actually be broken by more than just what you say aloud.

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Nonverbal communication, or the communicating of information without speaking, is something we are constantly doing, whether we’re aware of it or not. We roll our eyes, cross our arms, look distracted. These communicate something about ourselves, something that other people pick up on. More than half of communication is nonverbal, so of course some of the most important social no-no’s don’t require you to say anything wrong; you just have to do something wrong.Breaking a taboo can be a minor annoyance or a serious offense, and it can result in people rolling their eyes or chasing you out of town on a rail.

It all depends on how seriously a culture feels about that taboo. This is why it’s important to understand cultures before you visit them, but not today. Today, we are going to travel the world breaking nonverbal taboos. In other words, get it out of your system now before traveling for real.

Clothing Taboos

One of the first things many people notice about you is your clothing. This is true in most cultures and there are several taboos involved in what not to wear. And here we are in sunny Italy.

Ah, bella Roma, home of a thousand gorgeous cathedrals and some of the greatest art in the world. Want to go see? Well, ya can’t. Sorry, but those exposed shoulders, shorts and sandals mean that you aren’t allowed in the cathedral; exposed legs are traditionally offensive in church.Taboos are based in cultural values, which mean that not only are they often different everywhere you go, they also change over time.

And through the magic of traveling with a virtual tour group, we’ve now arrived in ancient China, just in time for a wedding! But whatever you do, don’t wear white. White was the color of clothing used for funerals; black was the color for weddings. This changed over time, and in modern China white wedding dresses are common, largely thanks to Western influence.

Action Taboos

Wearing the wrong things sends strong nonverbal messages that you either don’t belong or don’t care enough to respect the cultural values of other people. Well, guess what? Your actions can do this, too! Manners are almost always tied to how we behave in public.And with that, we have arrived in Morocco, just in time for the religious festival of Ramadan! And you’re still immodestly dressed in a place where religious values dictate covering your body. Well, now you’re being really rude. Why? Because you are eating in public during Ramadan.

Do you know one of the ways Ramadan is celebrated in Morocco? By fasting. Yes, while the people of Morocco are fasting in observance of a religious holiday, you are eating in public, which is a taboo and seen as very rude. Just because the people of Morocco are too polite to kick you out, doesn’t mean they’re not offended. Keep that in mind.

Expression Taboos

Okay, we’ve offended people through our dress and our actions, what’s next on our itinerary? Ah, expressions. Even when communicating verbally, people expect you to react a certain way.

Do you gasp, laugh, cry openly and loudly for everyone to see? Each of those are genuinely how some cultures expect you to react to certain news. Failure to do so is not only confusing but often offensive.Look at this.

We are simultaneously in Brazil and Saudi Arabia at the same time. Isn’t virtual travel great? Okay, over here in Saudi Arabia, culture is very polite and when you are in public, especially with people you don’t know well, it is rude to be too expressive. But over here in Brazil, communication is based in relationships, so if you aren’t open and honest about your emotions, people will think you don’t care and could also become quickly offended. In both cultures, someone is trying to communicate with you but by breaking nonverbal taboos, you communicate that you aren’t interested in what they have to say.

Gesture Taboos

Well, we’ve offended a lot of people today by breaking nonverbal taboos, but we’ve got one more to go. Gestures are a major part of nonverbal communication. Think about it.

What do you do with your hands when you talk or when you don’t want to talk? Some people talk more with their hands than their words. Where you put your hands or where you don’t put them can communicate a lot and if you mess it up, well, congrats. You’ve just offended someone.And here we are, right back home in the good ol’ US of A. Why aren’t we stopping our tour somewhere else? Well, so we can talk about these taboos in a specific way. You see, sometimes we break gesture taboos by gesturing too little, too much, or in the wrong way.

But some gestures are just downright offensive. You know what I’m talking about. Every culture’s got them. These are amongst those taboos you want to be very careful about breaking, they could get you into trouble pretty fast. Well, that concludes our tour. Thank you for flying Taboo Tours.

Hope that you got that out of your system.

Lesson Summary

A breach of good manners is called a taboo. These little social rules are a big part of communication. Some rules involve things to say or not to say. Others are part of nonverbal communication, things we communicate without speaking.

Nonverbal communication is a major part of our interactions, and the ways that we break or obey taboos tell people a lot about us. Although there are many forms of nonverbal taboos, we can classify at least some of them as based on ‘clothing’, ‘actions’, ‘expressions’, or ‘gestures’. Well, I hope you understand a bit more about taboos from our trip around the world. Just don’t try these at home.

At A Glance

Taboo Nonverbal Communication
A breach of good manners Classified by the choice of clothing or particular actions, expressions or gestures

Learning Outcomes

This lesson on nonverbal taboos contains details that will enable you to:

  • Recognize the ways in which people can engage in non-verbal communication
  • Express understanding of cultural taboos that play a part in social rules

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