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Understanding Nonverbal Chaldean Communication
By Brenda Hermiz :: Friday, February 20, 2009 :: 138896 Views :: Article Rating :: Community & Culture, Business & Finance

Most of what we learn about human behavior is taught by nonverbal signals. Body language is a powerful but subtle form of communication.  Learning to interpret the clues and indicators of body language will help guide you through delicate situations and help you shape better personal relationships.

Like the spoken language different cultures also have their share of unique nonverbal gestures.  In the Chaldean community various body gestures can help better understand what is being said or how someone feels.  These include gestures, body movements, facial expressions, and even vocal tone and pitch. Much of the nonverbal information we get from people comes from their eyes. This explains why it’s often hard to infer meaning from a telephone call or written words.

Since nonverbal communication—or body language—is such a natural part of our communication life and community, learning to interpret it can really improve our relationships and understanding of other people. Still, it’s an art to be treated with a degree of caution. Misinterpretation does occur and it is always best to ask questions, otherwise acting on your perceptions can have ghastly consequences.

Knowing the art of Chaldean body language or body language in general will improve communications.  Here are some interesting Chaldean body language clues that many of us all share.

Chaldean Body Language 101: Understand the Meanings of Chaldean Gestures

The six most universal human emotions—happiness, anger, sadness, envy, fear and love—are universal and seen on faces around the world. Smiles and scowls almost universally convey happiness and anger. Other common gestures include the “I don’t know” shrug, the “yes” nod, and the side-to-side head shake that says “no”; but be careful: gestures that we may think are universal actually convey different messages in difficult cultures. For example, the thumbs up and joined forefinger/thumb are well-established signs for “OK” in the U.S. and United Kingdom, just as raising one’s first two fingers means “Victory.” In other cultures, though, both gestures have offensive meanings.

Many gestures occur in clusters.   If you study Chaldeans during a meeting, you’re likely to see the following body movements:

  • Hands—a Chaldean may signal that he is evaluating what’s being said by balancing his chin on his thumb with his middle finger running along his bottom lip and his index finger pointing up his cheek.
  • Limbs—one arm may be clamped against the body by the other elbow.
  • Bodies—if a Chaldean’s upper body is leaning back from a vertical position, they are signaling distance from what’s being said.


The key to effective communication with Chaldeans is to first commit to understanding before being understood.  To do this one must listen, observe body language, and ask open ended clarifying questions. 

Match and Mirror When Appropriate

If you watch two Chaldeans talking in a relaxed manner, you may notice their bodies taking on a similar pose. Both may cross their legs or settle into their chairs in similar ways. If they’re eating or drinking, they may do so at the same rate. This is called matching or mirroring, and it occurs naturally between two people who feel they’re on the same wavelength. Matching and mirroring can be used consciously as a technique to achieve rapport with someone, but it needs to be done subtly. Exaggerated mirroring looks like mimicry, and the other person is likely to feel embarrassed or angry.

Watch your counterparts’ body language carefully; then reflect the pattern of their nonverbal communication. When this feels natural, see if you can take the lead: Change your body position, then see if they follow you. Very often they do. Once you begin feeling comfortable with this process, try using it in a problematic situation.

Focus on the Eyes

Most individuals conveying nonverbal facial signals rely on their eyes. Good eye contact is an effective way of building rapport. Not only can you “read” another person’s disposition, you can also convey, very subtly, messages that will reinforce what you’re saying.

However, too much eye contact can be intrusive or too intimate to Chaldeans. Chaldeans who are uncomfortable will often break or block eye contact. They may use eye movements such as looking away ot the “over-the-shoulder stare” or the long, fluttery, blink that effectively draws down the shutters.

When dealing with Chaldeans, it’s important to confine your gaze to the eyes and forehead and forego the more intimate glance at the lips or upper body. If you hold your stare for too long, it may be considered hostile, so try to limit it to two thirds of the conversation. If you reduce the timing to less than one third, you may appear timid or shifty.

Listen Actively

Active listening is a rare skill, but it’s well worth mastering. It’s effective in helping you build rapport with Chaldeans and avoiding the kind of misunderstandings that land you in awkward situations. It can also yield valuable information that enables you to be more efficient.

Demonstrate that you’ve understood and are interested in what’s being said in conversation. This kind of active listening requires good eye contact, lots of head nods, and responses such as “Ah,” or “I understand what you mean.” You can also summarize what has been said to demonstrate your understanding and ask open-ended questions such as, “Can you tell me more about that?” and “What do you think should be done?” These questions encourage further communication and enrich what’s being said.

Props and Seating Significance

Many Chaldeans use props to reinforce their messages, the most common being extensions of the hand such as fingers, pen, pointer, or even vision glasses. Using a prop subconsciously helps the speaker better convey their feelings. 

Some Other examples like adjusting a tie, fussing with the hair, or tugging at a cuff are examples of “preening.” Chaldeans often use these gestures to endear themselves to others, although they also can suggest nervousness. Clenching anything close to the body or folding arms are used as defense mechanisms. They effectively close off the more vulnerable parts of the body.

The way Chaldeans sit in a group can convey powerful messages about the pecking order. Taking the chair at the head of the table automatically puts someone in the controlling position. Leaning back with arms behind the head and one leg crossed horizontally across the other conveys feelings of superiority. A closed or crunched body position can mean disapproval, defensiveness, or a lack of interest.

Respect Boundaries

People travel through the world enclosed within a conceptual zone of personal space and feel invaded if others trespass into it. They often protect this territory by placing a desk between themselves and others, by standing behind a chair or counter, or by clinging to an object like a handbag or briefcase as if it were a shield.

It’s always interesting to watch people in groups. If you see two or three men talking, you might notice them shift their weight from one foot to the other. This is part of a ritual of creating territorial boundaries. They might also make themselves appear taller by rocking forward onto the balls of their feet to indicate power and confidence. When women are in groups, they’re much more likely to mirror each other’s nonverbal behavior in an attempt to build lateral bridges.

That’s why it’s essential to place any body-watching observations in context, because most nonverbal communication is part of a broader dialogue.

Chaldean Body Language in Culture and Context

Combining the ability to identify body language clues, understanding the culture, and the context of the conversation leads to better understanding Chaldeans.  Much has been written about how to read body language and the insights it provides. However, little has been written regarding the body language clues as they relate to cultures or context. 

For example, someone sitting in a meeting with his or her arms crossed could be expressing aggression, reluctance, or disapproval, but the person also could simply be shy, cold, or ill. As a Chaldean it might also mean the person is uncomfortably or feels they don’t belong – a way of subconsciously trying to hide themselves.  So be cautious of jumping to conclusions about how someone feels without more information.

Another example of how culture or context can influence body language is to consider when a when a Chaldean person is getting angry.  Many would say when a person speaks louder or blurts out. 

Chaldeans tend to speak louder than most.  This is because most Chaldeans come from large families and family gatherings.  This requires Chaldeans to speak loudly, be aggressive, and fight to make their point.  A loud voice does not necessarily mean the Chaldean person is angry.  However, marry the loud voice with a rising tone, overt changes in facial expression, and intense gestures and it is best to know a pacing lion is growing agitated. 

The key to effecitive communication is to first understand the language of the body.  Learn as much as you can about body language.  Secondly, learn as much as you can about the Chaldean culture. Observe other Chaldeans in conversation and look for clues that reflect their feelings or thoughts in context of what is being said.  Finally, master the art of asking questions.  Body language, cultural understanding, and smart questioning is the foundation for effective communications. 

To learn more about body language visit these helpful sites:

The cluster of nonverbal gestures indicates that a listener is reserving judgment about what’s being said. Other clusters suggest other feelings. If you sense that a group of gestures is conveying someone’s true thoughts, ask that person to share them verbally. 

comment @ Saturday, February 13, 2010 9:23 AM
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St. Thomas, MI USA

St. Thomas Chaldean Catholic Church
6900 Maple Rd.
West Bloomfield, MI 48322
Tel: (248) 788-2460
Fax: (248) 788-2153

Founding Pastor:
Rev. Hanna Cheikho

Current Pastor:
Rev. Frank Kalabat

Parochial Vicar:
Rev. Jirjis Abrahim

Rev. Emmanuel Rayes, Retired  

Rev. Frank Kalabat

Rev. Frank Kalabat was born in 1970 in San Diego, California and entered St. Francis Seminary of San Diego, California.  The admission to the Catholic seminary made him the first born U.S. Chaldean to enter an American seminary.  In 1992, Fr. Kalabat continued his studies at Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit, Michigan.  In July 1995, shortly after graduation he was ordained as priest by His Excellency Bishop Ibrahim N. Ibrahim.  

Fr. Frank chose Mother of God Parish in Southfield, MI. as his first assignment serving the Chaldean community as an associate pastor for half a decade.  In 2001, Fr. Kalabat was elected to serve as Pastor of St. Tomas Parish in West Bloomfield, Michigan where he remains today.   

Rev. Jirjis Abrahim

Rev. Jirjis Abrahim was born in Telkaif, Iraq in 1942. Upon graduation Fr. Abrahim was admitted to St. Peter Chaldean Seminary in Baghdad, Iraq.  After a decade of studies and numerous degrees, Fr. Abrhim was ordained a priest in 1967.  He chose to continue ministering in Baghdad, Iraq.  There he was appointed the headmaster of the catechism at Mother of Sorrows Cathedral.  Fr. Abrahim also assisted St. Therese Church in Baghdad until 1978.  Afterward he was asked to assist St. Joseph Church in Baghdad and was appointed Parochial Vicar from 1978-1992. 

In 1992, Fr. Abrahim was called upon to assist the growing Chaldean population in Michigan.  Upon his arrival he was assigned to St. Joseph Church in Tory, Michigan.  Two years later Fr. Abrahim was asked to become the pastor of a Parish community in Windsor, Canada  where he remained the parish pastor until 2001.

Continuing demographic changes in Michigan required Fr. Abrahim to return to St. Joseph Parish in Tory as a Parochial Vicar, where he remained until 2006.  In 2006 he was elected to St. Thomas Parish as Parochial Vicar in West Bloomfield, MI. where he currently serves the Chaldean community.


Rev. Emmanuel Rayes

Rev. Emmanuel Rays was born in Araden, Iraq in 1930.  He studied at St. John Dominican Seminary and was ordained to the priesthood in 1954.  The Chaldean catholic ambassador ministered in northern Iraq from 1954-1963, in Syria and Lebanon from 1963-1980, and in the United Stated from 1980 to the present day.
Form 1980-1983, he was appointed associate pastor at Mother of God Parish in Southfield, Michigan.  From 1983-1989 he served as pastor at Sacred Heart Parish in Detroit, Michigan.  During the early 1990’s he ministered to the Chaldean community in Farmington Hills and was at St. Joseph Parish in Tory where he was Parochial Vicar until 2000.

Although Fr. Rayes retired in 2001, he remains active in serving the community.  He is the author of many articles in Arabic and is the editor-in-chief of the Al Mishal and Al-Tariq magazine.  He has translated and continues to translate many books from French and English into Arabic.