There are so many factors involved in cultural body language and human communication, for that matter. Of course, there is the written word, but moreover there is eye contact, facial expression, tone of voice, and body language. It seems a bit complicated at best and then throw in trying to master all these things for different cultures, as well, and you have a lot to learn.
However, once you get the hang of the different expectations of different cultures when it comes to body language and facial expressions, remembering a few key points will keep you moving along smoothly.
Let’s review a few key points on cultural body language, so you can mingle with charisma…
Cultural Body Language: Facial Expressions
For the most part, facial expressions are universally understood as being similar. A happy individual will show raised eyebrows and a wide smile, while a disgusted individual will show the opposite in a frown and scowling eyebrows.
Mistrust will read with squinted eyes in mostly every culture while trust will show an open and accepting facial expression with a tilt of the head, as well.
Use Caution with Theses Facial Expressions
However, when it comes to smiling, studies show that those of English descent will typically utilize a closed mouth smile as compared to the smile of most other countries where an open mouthed, full grin is shown.
In Japan, on the other hand, raising an eyebrow has a more improper connotation of being flirtatious and disrespectful than in other countries such as America.
In certain cultures, it is completely disrespectful to look at an older person directly in the eye, while in other cultures not looking directly in someone’s gaze as they speak to you shows a sign of total disrespect and uninterested, as well. Yet in other cultures such as Latin or African culture, looking at someone directly means a challenge for negative interaction.
Some cultures consider the smirk as a shy smile while others consider it a mimicking gesture that means the individual is less than worthy.
In some cultures, talking face to face is a sign of mutual respect while in other cultures it is a sign of pending confrontation.
For most cultures, eyes that look to the right indicate creativity or in worse case scenarios possible lying. For yes that look to the left, it is most for recalling certain memories.
Winking in many cultures such as the American culture simply means a flirtatious connotation or a shared inside joke or secret. However, in other cultures it is highly offensive.
Universal Expression (Mostly)
For the most part, there are several facial expressions that are universally recognized, accepted, and understood as they share the same expressions across cultures. Some of those expressions are expressions of happiness, sadness, fear, surprise, and condemnation.
Did you know that blowing your nose in public is an offense in Japanese culture? While it may not be a facial expression, it certainly does involve a component that is right on the center of your face – your nose.
So, there you have it, a few odds and ends about cultural body languages and facial expressions. While you may never find yourself in Japan blowing your nose, it can never hurt to know that doing so in front of a visiting Japanese guest may blow (no pun intended) 😉 your chance at sealing a business deal.
Let’s move on to eye contact…
Cultural Body Language: Eye Contact
Just as smiling is a way of communicating with others, so is eye contact. However, when it comes to cultural differences, eye contact is viewed in various ways. For some cultures, it is viewed as acceptable and expected while in other cultures it is viewed as unacceptable and even as far as forbidden.
What is considered appropriate varies from culture to culture. If you need to conduct business or considering expanding your business to include other cultures, then understanding the value placed behind appropriate eye contact is necessary.
Eye Contact in American Culture
According to American culture, eye contact is somewhat expected for many reasons.
When you look someone directly in the eye in American culture, it is taken that you are being someone who is trustworthy.
Another reason for looking at someone and making eye contact is to show confidence, as well. When you look at someone in the eye you give the appearance that you know what you are talking about and that you also believe in what you are saying.
Making eye contact in America also proves to show that you are engaged and interested in them and in your conversation.
Eye Contact in European Cultures
For the most part, it is safe to say that eye contact in European countries means that you respect the person you are speaking with, not only when speaking with them, but also in your listening to that individual.
There may be some parts of Europe, however, that interpret too much eye contact as a negative view. For example, in England while eye contact is customary, eye contact for too long and too direct is considered intimidating by some.
Middle Eastern Countries and Eye Contact
For the most part, eye contact in the Middle East is acceptable; however, more so for men that it is for women. While eye contact is more expected in American and European cultures, it is accepted somewhat in Middle Eastern cultures, as well.
In other cultures such as Africa or Latin America, extended eye contact is usually a sign of an invitation for confrontation or conflict. It is a matter of respect to keep eye contact to a minimum in these cultures.
Take Time to Learn Cultural Difference
When it comes to reading the meaning behind eye contact in different cultures, it is best to study those cultures beforehand. You may find that direct and steady eye contact with one culture is a meaning of respect while in another that same eye contact is considered rude and disrespectful.
There are many ways that eye contact is viewed, for example, it can be viewed as flirtatious and inappropriate, as respectful, as aggressive, or as appropriate and expected. When it comes to various cultures, it is important to do your research when doing business with those from other cultures.
Make it a point to learn different views on eye contact as you interact with new cultures. You’ll come across as being savvy and your business contacts will respect you for it. 😉
Here’s How You Can Take Action…
Think of one or two people you are trying to build a closer business relationship with, chances are they from a different culture. Take some time over the next few days to learn about that culture. Next, when the right opportunity presents itself, use that new cultural knowledge to WOW that person.
This is how it worked for me…
I use to call on doctors who were originally from different parts of the world and still celebrated their country’s holidays. I made it a point to learn how these holidays were celebrated – customs, special foods, colors, etc. – and then I would plan a special lunch for them to celebrate. They really appreciated that I took the time to learn their customs and it helped me to win over their business.
By learning about a variety of customs and cultural body language you will stand out from your competition and build amazing relationship with your customers.
I’d love to hear how frequently you have to interact with people of different cultures? How do you keep up with the traditions and do you have frequent opportunities to “gain points” with business contacts? One more thing, and probably most important, how do your business contacts react to your knowledge of their customs?
PS: Gain even more points with prospects and customers by sharpening your business communications skills…Sign Up for my Building Rapport Like a Pro ecourse.