By Kevin Stoda
I recently used the simulation game, BARNGA
, for a group of university faculty and staff here inOman. Even though we were a small group, we got a lot out of the cross-cultural simulation. I, myself, became once again fixated on our lack of ability to appropriately choose non-verbal communication cues or tools to deal with others from another community and on and why there are so many misunderstandings of gestures (or inability to read gestures) as demonstrated by the participants.
Let me note that Barnga was created by Sivasailam Thiagarajan (known as Thiagi) and is considered the classic of cross-cultural simulation activities.
Barnga takes only about 80 minutes to carry out but is full of depth that no lecture could ever hope to relate to its audience. Thiagi's Barnga really does simulate what often goes on when we travel from one culture to another--or change from one workplace to another.
I have been using the game, Barnga,
for many years to create awareness of the great number of assumptions that cross-cultural communities and organizations should try to overcome or learn about on a daily basis, i.e. in order to build down barriers to efficient work-place behavior for a variety of communities. I first learnt how to play the simulation game inJapanat the J-TESOL Conference there in 1993, but other teachers and professors had already been using the simulation for well-over a decade by that particular time.
One of the important things to comprehend better through playing or watching Barnga
is that people from all backgrounds bring all kinds of assumptions with them to the table and at the same time they carry with them a lifetime of non-verbal codes and messages, which can both support, baffle, or even offend other people. The need for observation and discussion of these differing communication styles and cross-cultural assumptions are so important.
One reviewer and user of Barnga has claimed, "Barnga is what I call a simple yet elegant learning tool. Though the title of this simulation-game suggests that it is a simulation on cultural clashes, one can feel free to define the term "culture" quite broadly. I have used Barnga for years to help groups understand cultural diversity issues, conflict resolution styles, mental models and paradigms, and most recently the human responses to change acceptance. If you are a business/O.D. consultant, H.R. professional or a manager charged with helping a group of people to become more effective, Barnga is likely to be one of the best learning tool you'll ever own."
Many times, a Barnga activity has been embedded in weeklong training activities to create cross-cultural awareness and appreciation of diversity. At other times, it is used in semester-long training for students of communication, anthropology and business. E.g.
Long before Barnga was created by Thiagi, another author, Julius Fast wrote about the importance on non-verbal communication. In his original 1970 edition of Body Language , Fast revealed the world that few had reflected upon: Namely, the powerful world of non-verbal communication (kinesthetics).
The basis for the book, Body Language , was simply this reality : "A hundred times a day, our bodies send out little messages to the world. We arch an eyebrow in disbelief; scratch our heads when puzzled; shrug our shoulders to register indifference; or tap our fingers impatiently. A complicated code of gesture, posture, facial expression, and movement, this non-verbal language communicates (and sometimes miscommunicates) emotions more clearly than words. Like it or not, how we walk, sit, stand, and move affects the way people treat us. Do you ask to be ignored? Are you inadvertently sending out signals that smack of apology, aggression, or arrogance? Covering "space" issues, the language of touch, and cultural indoctrination, and illustrating with clear situational examples, the author analyzes the common gestures we use and observe each day and shows us how to interpret them correctly."
Interestingly, the book, Body Languages was originally only written or targeted for non-anthropologist American audience in mind. Nonetheless, the author revealed succinctly (or summarized) generations of secrets concerning our lives lived
(a) --in international communities,
(b) --the myriads of cross-cultural stresses we experience too often wherever we travel, and
(c) --truths about our tendencies to fail to communicate and understand the others all-around-the-world as well as at home (i.e. in theUSA).
In short, although the classic book by Julius Fast, had simply introduced "kinetics, the science of non-verbal communication, which is used to analyze the common gestures we use and observe every day, gestures which reveal our deepest feelings and hidden thoughts to total strangers--if they know how to read them." However, in doing so, it popularized the studies of kinesthetic and other forms of non-verbal communication, which are now used and studied pervasively in market places of mankind today to train salesmen, businessmen, media experts, politicians, managers and others how to work with (and manage) others in more effective and less culturally stressful manners.
After Body Language had been published in 1970, the topics of (1) non-verbal communication and (2) how to improve our non-verbal communication has spawn hundreds of publications and thousands-and-thousands of workshops and training programs--all created to help people better to communicate in the world of work and learn how to get along with others in life. Negotiators of world peace and people lacking great training in business have succeeded by mastering the arts of on-verbal communication.
They say a picture paints a thousand words -- and the same can certainly be said for gestures. We all subconsciously give away hints as to our true feelings, through our movements and gestures. This is a list of 25 examples of body language.
Gestures 1 -- 5
Gesture: Brisk, erect walk
Gesture: Standing with hands on hips
Meaning: Readiness, aggression
Gesture: Sitting with legs crossed, foot kicking slightly
Gesture: Sitting, legs apart
Meaning: Open, relaxed
Gesture: Arms crossed on chest
Gestures 6 -- 10
Gesture: Walking with hands in pockets, shoulders hunched
Gesture: Hand to cheek
Meaning: Evaluation, thinking
Gesture: Touching, slightly rubbing nose
Meaning: Rejection, doubt, lying
Gesture: Rubbing the eye
Meaning: Doubt, disbelief
Gesture: Hands clasped behind back
Meaning: Anger, frustration, apprehension
Gestures 11 -- 15
Gesture: Locked ankles
Gesture: Head resting in hand, eyes downcast
Gesture: Rubbing hands
Gesture: Sitting with hands clasped behind head, legs crossed
Meaning: Confidence, superiority
Gesture: Open palm
Meaning: Sincerity, openness, innocence
Gestures 16 -- 20
Gesture: Pinching bridge of nose, eyes closed
Meaning: Negative evaluation
Gesture: Tapping or drumming fingers
Gesture: Steepling fingers
Gesture: Patting/fondling hair
Meaning: Lack of self-confidence; insecurity
Gesture: Quickly tilted head
Gestures 21 -- 25
Gesture: Stroking chin
Meaning: Trying to make a decision
Gesture: Looking down, face turned away
Gesture: Biting nails
Meaning: Insecurity, nervousness
Gesture: Pulling or tugging at ear
Gesture: Prolonged tilted head