In the last article about cultural body language we reviewed facial expressions. This time we’re diving in a bit more.
Communication is not only about the words that you use; it is also about your gestures, body language, posture, greeting, and touch. More importantly, communication has a lot to do with how well received a particular gesture or touch.
For example, certain cultures considering pointing a major and unforgivable offense while other cultures regard personal touch as invading one’s personal space and an insult, at best.
We come across so many people from different countries that learning about cultural body language is crucial to our success.
Cultural Body Language: Greetings and Touch
Just as individuals have certain preferences when it comes to greeting and touch, so do certain cultures. When it comes to greetings and touch, it is necessary to be aware of the cultural differences, especially in your business situations.
When it comes to greetings and touch, there are also many differences.
The Good Old-Fashioned Handshake
In most cultures, handshaking is the norm. However, handshaking can vary when it comes to the degree of pumps, and even how long a handshake lasts. For example, in American culture, a handshake typically consists of five pumps, which is quite a bit longer than in other cultures.
When it comes to handshaking gestures, the British and the Americans have similar methods. However, when it comes to handshaking gestures and the German culture, they pretty much stand out amongst the crowd. Their way of handshaking is basically one pump and it’s done.
Whereas, one could guess that the American gesture is viewed as overdone, another culture might view the German gesture as cold and hard.
A Good Ol’ Bear Hug
In some cultures, a good old-fashioned bear hug is acceptable while in other cultures it is totally inappropriate. For example, in Japan a handshake nor a hug are appropriate, but a bow is acceptable and expected.
Many cultures view personal touch an insult as well as offensive. These cultures also view personal touch as an invasion of personal space. Invasion of personal space is sometimes translated to a form of disrespect.
Another form of greeting is facial expression. Facial expressions upon approaching someone or being approached by someone convey a lot more than any words can express.
In some cultures, it is unacceptable to smile and show your teeth. This is viewed as a negative facial expression. The more courteous and polite way to greet someone while smiling is to smile closed mouthed.
Direct eye contact in some cultures is viewed as inappropriate. Such cultures view it as an insult when another person makes direct contact with them that he or she does not know yet.
While it is not uncommon to see two men in Middle Eastern countries holding hands, in the United States it may be viewed differently. In Middle Eastern countries, for example, you may find that this means a sign of exchanged and agreed upon mutual respect.
Kissing is another form of personal touch that is recognized throughout cultures and also done differently throughout them, as well. Some cultures like the French and the Italian cultures prefer a double cheeked kiss while others such as the American or Australian culture prefer one.
So, as you can see when it comes to cultural differences in greetings and touch, there really is a lot to learn, and learning these differences before you interact is a wise choice. 😉
Now for an even more trickier one, hand gestures…
Cultural Differences With Hand Gestures
While there are many components to communication, hand gestures are amongst the biggest to cause problems. Many cultures are poked fun at in movies and media for talking with their hands; however, while this may be culturally acceptable in certain sectors of the world, it may be insulting in others.
Did you know that thumbs up, pointing, and certain methods of hand shakes are cause for offense? If not and you are a businessperson, then perhaps it is time to learn the cultural differences regarding hand gestures.
It does not matter how business smart you are, if you do not take the time and trouble to learn the various cultural differences of your associates and potential future clients, this could mean loss of business and embarrassment, as well.
Everything is Okay
While making a gesture with your hands in which you make a circle with your thumb and forefinger with your other three fingers raised as if to indicate that everything is “okay,” you may very well be offending someone that does not live in the United States.
In countries such as Russia or Germany, this sign is offensive to say the least. In business or otherwise, this is not “okay.”
V is for Victory
While most individuals who live in the United States and in England are aware that the V made with the index and middle finger is for Victory, in other countries it is extremely offensive. This is especially true if you have your palm facing toward yourself when you make this symbol.
Australia and South Africa both find this gesture to mean something entirely different than victory and it is not pleasant to say the least.
Thumbs Up Gets a Thumbs Down in These Countries
Again, if you are from the United States, a thumbs up sign means a job well done, superb, excellent, and way to go. However, in countries such as the Middle East or Greece, don’t ever think about giving the thumbs up sign.
Also don’t give this sign especially with a forward thrusting gesture as it means something entirely different than a job well done.
It’s Rude to Point
In any country, it is considered rude to point at anyone anywhere. However, in other countries it may be a sign of serious offense, especially in countries such as China and Japan.
It is a wise choice to extend an open hand wave type of gesture when trying to point at someone in these countries.
For the most part, these are the major offenders in the cultural hand gestures scenario. Your best bet is to learn about which countries are offended by what gestures before you have a business meeting. Of course, if you are meeting with people from different countries, the best thing to do is to keep your hand gestures to a minimum.
The most common cultural differences with hand gestures you need to know about before you meet with others from different countries.
Something to start with…think of customers/clients or even you business network is their someone your starting to have more interaction with who is from another country? Take 30-minutes to do research and find out a little more about their culture and what is considered acceptable and offensive. After learning these gestures you’ll be sure to continue to make a great impression and further your business relationship.