Arabic Language Blog

Non verbal communication – agreement and disagreement Posted by on May 18, 2011 in Culture

Non verbal communication (التواصل الغير لفظي) can be used to serve many purposes. In my previous post, I discussed how it can be used in greetings. In this post, I discuss other aspects of non-verbal communication including expressing the social functions of agreement and disagreement.

Smiles and laughter are very important ways of communication. They do not just express one’s mood, instead they can send messages of approval, agreeing, liking, etc. So, a smile or a laughter can say ‘yes’ to an invitation, or they can say ‘ok’ for a suggestion, and it can be a way of saying ‘thank you’! In a traditional society, like Arab societies where the relationships between genders are clearly demarcated by society and where there are tough rules and red lines that cannot be ignored, sometimes a smile can be the only way available to a girl to communicate with someone about feelings, liking, etc. Likewise, frowning can send a message of disapproval, not agreeing and it can be another way of saying ‘NO!’ In reality, it is much more complicated than this, as the context can add so many meanings to a simple smile or a frown or even a plain expressionless face to send a message.


In traditional Arab society, girls are not meant or expected to express their feelings openly, and being silent is taken as a sign of approval. We even have a saying in all Arab communities (السكوت علامة الرضا) ‘silence is a sign of approval’! However, one has to remember and note here that Arab societies are evolving very quickly now, and traditions are changing as well or sometimes becoming less important. Moreover, people now question these passive attitudes, as they are sometimes misinterpreted by some people.

Other reactions that can be expressed non-verbally are ‘thumbs up’ for approval and to express readiness. Nodding one’s head up and down also expresses approval and agreement, while shaking one’s head on both sides expresses disagreement.

Sometimes non-verbal communication is used for practical reasons, e.g. in very noisy places where words cannot be heard, gestures can be seen. We see this in football matches, airports, etc. Also, in parliaments where there is distance between the speaker (chair) and members, raising one’s hand can be very important to express objection or agreement.


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  1. c.taleb:

    Um. In Jordan, tilting your head up, usualy making a *tsk* sound on the roof of your mouth means disagreement/no..
    lol every time i would nod my head, every1 would misunderstand me…for a year! lolol so yea, the head nod does not apply there XD.

    • aziza:

      @c.taleb That’s very interesting, Taleb! Thank you very much!