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Verbal and non-Verbal Communication Styles across Ethnic and Cultural Background Argumentative Essay

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Updated: Aug 12th, 2019


Cultural competence has become an important factor to success of a therapist because of demographic changes in the country. It has become common for a psychology therapist to encounter clients from different ethnic or cultural background in either individual or group setting. The situations where a therapist and client have different cultural background require more than conventional counseling skills.

In such situations, multicultural knowledge becomes a determinant factor to success of counseling process. One of the important multicultural competences is multicultural communication. For effective counseling, a counselor has to communicate effectively with her clients. She must be able to understand her clients in order to respond effectively to their needs regardless of their ethnic and cultural background (Chang & Berk, 2009).

In the essay, I discuss verbal and non-verbal communication styles across ethnic and cultural background, communication styles that a counselor may come across when dealing with culturally diverse clients and how a therapist can succeed in such settings.

Verbal and Non Verbal Communication across Ethnic and Cultural Groups

Communication is important in all aspects of life. It is through communication that individuals are able to socialize, interact and work together. A simple definition of communication is exchanging information. Two parties must be involved in communication: the sender and receiver of the messages. The involved parties exchanges messages using verbal and non-verbal means.

In verbal communication, words are used to communicate the intended message while nonverbal communication constitutes communication without the aid of spoken words. It is commonly agreed that nonverbal communication such as facial expression, body language and gestures constitute a significant part of the communicated message. Use of verbal and non verbal communication may differ across cultural setting.

Various cultural and ethnic groups use different languages and set of nonverbal communication. Even when a common language such as English is used, different ethnic groups may differ on how they construct their sentences, pronounce words, use tone variations and the way they communicate their messages.

Verbal and non verbal communication is highly influenced by culture. Many ethnic and cultural groups have set communication tools consisting of distinct language, ascent, pronunciation and non-verbal communication. Language barrier is the major challenge to multicultural communication.

However, use of common language such as English makes it easier for individuals from diverse ethnic and cultural background to communicate. Despite of use of common language, difference in ascents and tone variation may hinder effective communication. For example, there is significant variation in ascent between Anglo Americans, Chinese Americans, African American and Latino Americans.

Though United State’s cultural diversity is a blessing, it leads to communication challenges. Different ethnic and cultural groups in the country demonstrate unique ways of communication. For example, comparing African American and Anglo American’s communication styles, significant difference can be noted.

To African Americans, asking personal questions at first meeting can be considered as intrusive while Anglo Americans consider asking personal question about one’s family and occupation as friendly.

While African American consider breaking in conversation as tolerable, Anglo Americans value taking turns in conversations. To African Americans conversation is considered private between the participants; hence, contribution from an outside party may be taken as eavesdropping.

In contrast, Anglo Americans have no problem with an outsider contributing to their conversations. To show attention and respect, African Americans tend to avert their eyes while Anglo Americans looks directly to the speaker for the same.

Latino Americans constitute a significant fraction of American population. Verbal and non verbal communication styles for Latino Americans are highly influenced by Spanish culture (Nelson & Albert, 1993). Apart from most of Latino Americans being able to communicate in both Spanish and English, their ascent is significantly different.

Code-switching between Spanish and English is common in some Latino Americans. In addition, difference in nonverbal communication styles between Anglo Americans and Latino America may be confusing. For example, Latino Americans tend to greet other Latino Americans with compassion than they do to other people. Use of gestures and handshakes may also differ.

Verbal and non verbal communication between Americans and Chinese is of great importance considering the growing number of Chinese in the country. Chinese tend to speak in an indirect way. To a Chinese, a yes does not necessarily mean a yes as it does to Americans. To Chinese, non verbal communication carry more weight that spoken words. The Chinese may tend to be excessively polite or even seem shy.

While Americans reach consensus rather fast, Chinese take time to draw conclusion. When conversing, Chinese may consider the assertive nature of Americans as offensive. Gestures and body language differ significantly in Chinese and Americans. For example, bowing is an equivalent of handshakes in America (Au, 1983). While Americans smile when they are happy, Chinese may smile when they feel uncomfortable.

Communication Styles in Culturally Diverse Clients

Counselors and therapist encounter various communication challenges when dealing with clients from diverse ethnic and cultural background. The clients may exhibit different perceptions of verbal tracking, questioning, body languages, eye contacts, paraphrasing and summarizing (Chen, Kakkad & Balzano, 2008). In working with diverse clients, a counselor has to consider the effects of counseling skill to clients’ rapport.

To avoid cross cultural misunderstanding when dealing with ethnic and cultural minority clients such as Latino-American, Asian-American, Native-American and African-American, a counselor need to assess their clients’ level of acculturation (Arredondo & Toporek, 2004). For example, Asian-American clients may interpret direct eye contact, continuous verbal tracking and demonstrative body language as offensive.

On the other hand, Native American with low acculturation may interpret direct questioning, continuous eye contact and repetitive paraphrasing as authoritative and invasive. To such clients, a counselor would need to adjust her communication styles to accommodate their cultural difference. For instance, instead of direct questioning a counselor may benefit from use of circular questioning and making use of silence.

Counseling process require trusting environment to be successful (Bhui & Morgan, 2007). Cultural difference between a counselor and the clients may affect the process of building a trusting environment. For example, African-American clients may be victims of cultural mistrust with their counselors mainly because of historical racial discrimination (Constantine, 2007).

The mistrust may inhibit effective communication and make it harder to achieve counseling goals. To boost confidence, a counselor should accept the clients’ frustrations and create an environment where the clients feel free to express themselves without fear of being prejudiced. For Latino American, being emphatic to their economic issues and recognizing the role of their families may improve communication and counseling process.

Improving Cross-Cultural Communication

Communication between culturally different individuals can be subject to misinterpretation. In a therapy setting, the counselor and the client may misinterpret each other leading to misunderstanding. A therapist may be having some stereotypes concerning the client and therefore fail to understand the client.

On the other hand, the client may also have stereotypes concerning the counselors. Stereotype and misinterpretation can hinder communication and make it impossible to build the necessary trust between the counselor and the client.

The first step to effective cross-cultural communication is cultural knowledge. Therapist must be aware of possibility for problem in communication and therefore take initiatives to avoid the problems. Apart from cultural knowledge, a counselor should appreciate that her effort to foster cross-cultural communication is not enough and therefore adjust her behavior appropriately (Flores & Heppner, 2002).

Although cross-cultural difference cannot not be ignored, it is not appropriate for a counselor to have cultural bias before they meet their clients. For example, it would be wrong for a counselor to assume that all African-American or Latino-Americans are the same.

The counselor should instead be flexible to unique needs of their clients. They should respond to their client as individuals rather than members of a particular cultural group and match their counseling to the individual clients.

Intermediaries who are knowledgeable to both cultures can help in communication between culturally different individuals. In a therapy setting, intermediaries can facilitate effective communication between the counselor and clients. They can interpret not only the substance but also the manner a message is communicated.

For example, intermediaries can be able to tone down a strong message that may be considered proper in one culture but not in the other. Intermediaries can also adjust timing and make it possible for two culturally individuals to communicate effectively. Although intermediaries may be helpful, they can also complicate communication.

Despite their efforts, intermediaries cannot bridge cultural difference completely. For instance, although an intermediary may be able to interpret the message, he may not be able to communicate the involved emotions and therefore leave a gap in the counseling process.

Misunderstanding may also crop when the intermediary has the same cultural or ethnic background as either the counselor or the client. On the other hand, an intermediary origination from third cultural group may increase possibility for cross-cultural misunderstanding.


Communication styles vary from one ethnic or cultural group to the other. Considering that communication is an important part of counseling, a counselor has to consider cultural diversity when serving her clients.

Cultural knowledge can be of great help to a counselor for it would enable her to respond appropriately to diverse clients. Through effective cross-cultural communication, a therapist can be able to minimize cross-cultural mistrust and develop the appropriate rapport for the client.

References List

Arredondo, P. & Toporek, R. (2004). Multicultural Counseling Competencies = Ethical Practice. Journal of Mental Health Counseling 26(1), 44-55.

Au, T. K. (1983). Chinese and English counterfactuals: The Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis revisited. Cognition, 15(1-3), 155-187.

Bhui, K. & Morgan, N. (2007). Effective psychotherapy in a racially and culturally diverse society. Advances in Psychiatric Treatment 13(2), 187-193.

Chang, D. & Berk, A. (2009). Making cross-racial therapy work: A phenomenological study of client’s experience of cross-racial therapy. Journal of Counseling Psychology 56(4), 521-536.

Chen, E. Kakkad, D. & Balzano, J. (2008). Multicultural competence and evidence-based practice in group therapy. Journal of Clinical Psychology 64(11), 1261-1278.

Constantine, M. (2007). Racial microaggressions against African American clients in cross-racial counseling. Journal of Counseling Psychology 54 (1), 1-16.

Flores, L. & Heppner, M. (2002). Multicultural Career Counseling: Ten Essentials for Training. Journal of Career Development 28(3), 181-202.

Nelson, G. & Albert, R. (1993). Hispanic/Anglo-American differences in attributions to paralinguistic behavior. International Journal of Intercultural Relations 17(1), 19-40.

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