Body language is vital to successful communication
A key to being successful in business internationally is to understand the role of culture in international business. The social blunders you may commit while working in a culture unlike your own could cost both you and your company business and relationships. Whatever sector you are operating in, cultural differences will have a direct impact on your profitability. Improving your level of knowledge of international cultural difference in business can aid in building international competencies as well as enabling you to gain a competitive advantage.
Each of us knows how to use our body parts to send messages but not many of us realise that people in different parts of the world ‘speak’ different body languages. Humans have more than 700,000 forms of body language: facial expressions, gestures, mannerisms, greetings and degree of eye contact vary greatly across countries.
In today’s global business environment, you will likely visit foreign countries or build working relationships overseas. You may work directly with people from different cultures and backgrounds. Improving your level of knowledge of international cultural difference in business can aid in building international competencies as well as enabling you to gain a competitive advantage. Body language training is therefore a great asset to organisations with practical applications to leadership, sales, customer relations, HR and workplace dynamics.
Activia Training, a UK corporate training provider, has created this handy interactive infographic that will help you developing enough awareness of cultural diversity to avoid exposing yourself as a person who may not respect another’s culture and customs. The guide provides insight on how working and communicating vary across cultures, and explains how your culture and language affects the ways in which you think and respond. The cultural differences in body language are immense, and the guide has selected just a few to highlight body-language etiquette with surprising differences.
- The Eyes
While good eye contact is expected in the West, stronger eye contact is most notable in Spain, Greece and Arab countries. In other cultures, such as Asian and African, it is seen as a sign of disrespect.
- The Head
Everybody knows that nodding the head generally means agreement or approval. You may be surprised when travelling in some countries including Bulgaria and parts of Greece and Turkey, where a nodding up and down signifies a negative.
- Legs & Arms
Sitting cross-legged is common in North America and some European countries but it is viewed as disrespectful in Asia and the Middle East where one should never show the sole of the shoe to another person. In these cultures, a solid and balanced sitting posture is the prevailing custom.
While Northern Europeans associate gesturing with insincerity and over-dramatisation, some Mediterranean cultures, such as Italy, use their arms freely as a communication tool.
- Touching and Greetings
Handshaking differences can make for some humorous and cultural encounters. British, Australian and Americans usually shake hands on meeting and departure. Most European cultures will shake hands several times throughout the day, and some French might shake hands up to 30 minutes a day! When it comes to greeting with a cheek kiss, Scandinavians are happy with a single kiss, the French and Mediterranean countries prefer a double, while Dutch, Belgians and Arabs go for a triple kiss.
While shaking hands is slowly gaining acceptance in Asia, many Asians still prefer a different form of greeting: a bow in East Asia, or a ‘wai’ (joining the two hands together) in some Southern and South-eastern Asian countries.
So before travelling to a foreign country for business, it is a good idea to read up about the body language etiquette of that culture. You should also try to dull down your gestures and mannerisms until you’ve had the chance to observe some of the locals – once you have seen how they use body language; you can subtly try to mimic this behaviour. This will help you to present yourself in an appropriate manner, avoid any awkward situations or accidental offences, and gain acceptance into the culture.