Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Nonverbal versus Verbal Communication: A False Dichotomy?

Imagine this scenario: It's dark in Cebu City, 7:45pm. On Mango Avenue sits a well-lit bookstore. On the shop front, a sign reads 10am-8pm.

Two potential customers arrive at the front door. They are obviously not locals, and perhaps are not aware of the norms of the store. They try to enter the main door but find it locked.

Inside the shop, a store security man stands at attention as a cashier rings up a final customer. Outside, the two would-be customers stand in surprise when they note that the door has already been locked nearly 15 minutes before the end of the opening hours stated in the language of the sign.

One of these potential shoppers becomes angry. Without a word, he waves at the security guard, points at the shop sign, grimaces, then tugs at the door handle. The guard looks on but doesn't move. The would be customer throws up his hands in frustration, looks directly at the guard and points yet again at the sign, and when he receives no response other than an indifferent look from the guard, he turns and walks away.

What has just happened in this mainly nonverbal exchange? Why is there a problem?


Annie Ang said...

A question was asked and ignored, leading to hostility. However, local customs were ignored so hostility is a given.

Lance.RH said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Lance.RH said...

I actually think it is more of a cultural barrier that led to what seemed like miscommunication.

I many countries respect of what is the written law is not common. For example, not respecting the non-smoking sign is very common in middle eastern countries. For instance, I was in Beirut's International Airport waiting to board the plane and I notice a man lighting a cigarette in front a non-smoking sign without any repercussion. Same goes for ignoring stop signs or red lights.

Apparently in the Philippines, not respecting opening and closing times is quite common. It seems like what people decide is the law.

I will tell you something funny that happened during my internship in a bank. I spoke to the director to ask about the working hours. He told me work began at 8:00 and finished at 17:00. I was there at what I assumed was a good time: 7:55. I stood there sitting on a chair waiting for the office to open. At 8:25, my boss comes and opens the door while asking me "Why are you here so early? You know you can be here at 8:30, right?". I showed my confused face and he replies "You are still new here, you will get used to it". The same problem applies here where the notion of time does not get respected.

I should be thankful that the job I got dealt with other employees and not costumers. Or else I would have to deal with awkward moments like these :P


Brad Blackstone said...

You're right, Rami. This disregard of written signs is a cultural norm in many places, and it relates to the flexibility held with regard to time as well. Your anecdote about the internship is further proof. Classic example. Thanks for posting a comment!