Some research estimates that up to 90 percent of a message comes from body language, which doesn t leave a lot left over for words. As someone who spends a lot of time teaching people to speak a foreign language, I find this is rather a depressing statistic. People
Yet in face-to-face communication, words
Even relatively primitive machines like lie detectors can read body language, while dogs have been trained to recognize the infinitely small signals in their
Even so, there are significant differences in body language that are
Touching is another area where there are wide cultural differences. In Latin American and much of Africa and the Middle East, for example, a friendly conversation between
It s not surprising, then, that when you re in a foreign culture you make mistakes by translating physical signs into your own native body language. And because we don t carry around the
Dictionary of International Body Language
(because it doesn t exist), we will probably unconsciously interpret the signals of people from other cultures according to our own standards. But this is risky, because most interpretations are made unconsciously and possible misinterpretations are harder to correct; for example, the customer who gets close enough to you to breathe in your face would probably be
There are few other areas where so little (a glance, a smile, a shrug) can be misinterpreted so dramatically by so many. If there is any section in this book where the words Don t jump to conclusions are warranted, this is it.
Learning to interpret another culture s physical signals is just as important as learning to interpret its language ”and it is just as easy to make mistakes.
FROM THE U.S. ABOUT TURKEY
I ve heard from U.S. American colleagues who have visited Turkey that it was very difficult for Turks to accept no for an answer. Can this be a language problem, or do you think it depends on cultural differences?
A misreading of a simple headshake can lie at the bottom of this confusion. Turks do not shake their heads from side to side to say
as Americans and most Europeans do. Instead, they usually toss their head
FROM GERMANY ABOUT THAILAND
I ve heard from some people who have visited Thailand that they ve often seen men wandering about hand in hand. This strikes me as very odd. I m going there soon and wouldn t know how to
reactif another man tried to hold my hand!
Isn t it strange how attitudes to physical contact are so very different depending on which country you re in? In Europe and North America, many people find same-sex couples holding hands
But it isn t only in Thailand and in Muslim countries that patterns of physical contact
FROM THE U.S. ABOUT JAPAN
I ll be going to Japan soon and have heard that it s rude to look someone directly in the eye. Is this really true? I don t want to be regarded as discourteous.
In the U.S. and in most
In Japan, however,
I heard a
We don t usually intend to offend
FROM FINLAND ABOUT MEXICO
In the 1990s I worked in Iran checking selected vehicles. Every time an Iranian technician checked something, I asked him in sign language if it was okay. The signal I used was the famous thumbs up. I later learned that the sign I was giving was obscene ”the equivalent to the famous raised middle finger! I m going to Mexico soon and want to know if there are signs there that I should avoid.
This area is very confusing. In Mexico you should avoid making a circle with your index finger and thumb. In Finland and most of Europe that means
FROM SPAIN ABOUT INDIA
What should I not do on my first visit to India? I ve heard there are
numerousphysical taboos and I m terrified I ll do something awful.
India is a country with a lot of experience with foreign business people, and I doubt you ll manage to
Finally, both Muslims and Hindus frown on any physical contact between the sexes in public, so it s a good idea for a man to nod or bow on being introduced to an Indian
Not getting the response you expect can be a confusing experience.
FROM ARGENTINA ABOUT FINLAND
I m visiting Finland and feel I m getting nowhere with the Finns. I get no response when I make presentations and find it
impossibleto guess what they think. Are they the world s best poker players?
The Finns are not alone in being facially impassive or in having the sort of subtle body language that only fellow nationals can understand. This is true of Scandinavians as a whole, and the British are also experts at keeping a stiff upper lip when the situation arises. Many people find the Dutch hard to read, and the Japanese and Chinese regard it as a virtue to be able to hide their feelings. It s not that they don t use body language ” everyone does ”it s just not the table-banging, shoulder-shrugging sort. If you want to do business with these undemonstrative types, you will have to learn to observe how they communicate with each other and not to expect immediate or extravagant
How close we like to get to each other varies enormously. Even if you are expecting different standards, the first eyeball-to-eyeball meeting can be a shock.
FROM THE U.K. ABOUT BRAZIL
On our recent first visit to Brazil our Brazilian counterparts were very friendly, but we noticed that when speaking they d come closer and closer and we British ended up backing away. The Brazilians saw this, and in the end we could all joke together about how they chased us round the office. I suppose we just had different ideas about what was appropriate body space.
Yes, that s right. When first visiting a country (and if your schedule
Other nationalities go to great lengths to avoid touching each other. In the U.K. and U.S. people signal that they might be on a collision course by saying
, and then if the worst happens and they actually touch a stranger or even an acquaintance (and
GLOBAL BUSINESS STANDARDS
The closer the relationship, the closer people get physically (within their cultural parameters).
Don t touch any part of the body of the opposite sex (apart from a handshake, with the right hand, which is acceptable in most non-Muslim countries).
Offensive and insulting gestures:
Most places: a raised middle finger.
Mexico, Brazil, and Germany : the finger and thumb forming an O .
The U.K., South Africa, and Russia: two fingers forming the V for Victory sign, but with the thumb facing inwards.
Australia and the Middle East: a raised thumb.
Argentina: People stand closer than in most Western European and North American cultures. People make regular physical contact when talking to each other. (See Letters 92 and 96.)
There is little physical contact between business
Austria: Smiling is not a must in business communication; it is reserved for friends. (See Letter 91.)
Belgium: See Austria.
Brazil: People stand closer than in most Western European and North American cultures. (See Letters 92, 93, and 96.)
Canada: Standing about an arm s length between two speakers is considered appropriate. (See Letters 91 and 96.)
Subtle, undemonstrative body language is the norm. There is little intentional body contact between strangers, but close friends, especially
Denmark: Subtle, undemonstrative body language is the norm. (See Letter 95.)
Subtle, undemonstrative body language is the norm. Faces can
Smiling is not a must in business communication; it is reserved for friends. Male and
Germany: Smiling is not a must in business communication; it is reserved for friends. There is limited physical contact when people communicate. (See Letters 91, 93, and 96.)
Hong Kong: See China.
Touching between strangers (except for shaking hands) is not
Indonesia: Don t touch people s heads, and don t touch people with your feet. It is not common to show emotions freely in public (See Letters 91, 93, and 94.)
Italy: Body language is demonstrative and hands play an important part. There is a lot of physical contact between speakers.
Subtle, undemonstrative body language is the norm. People stand farthest apart of all cultures and don t touch anyone
Mexico: People stand closer than in the U.S., Canada, and Western European cultures. (See Letters 93 and 96.)
Netherlands: Subtle, undemonstrative body language is the norm. People leave a wide space between each other when they talk. (See Letters 95 and 96.)
Norway: There is little physical contact between people when communicating. People prefer undemonstrative body language. (See Letters 91 and 95.)
Poland: An older man may kiss a woman s hand when being introduced. Male friends may kiss each other on the cheek.
Russia: People stand much closer than is usual in the West. Greetings with friends can be quite physical, with vigorous handshakes, hugs, and kisses. (See Letter 93.)
Saudi Arabia: People stand closer than in Western European and North American cultures. There is a lot of physical contact between members of the same sex. Men holding hands is regarded as a sign of friendship. (See Letters 90, 91, 92, 94, and 96.)
South Africa: Men greet each other in quite physical ways, for example, strong handshakes and backslapping. Black South Africans, more reserved initially, will later become more physical, and hugs and long handshakes are signs of friendship. (See Letter93.)
Staring or intense eye contact may be regarded as
Lots of physical contact
Sweden: Undemonstrative body language and rather impassive faces are the norm. There is little physical contact during communication. (See Letters 91, 95, and 96.)
Switzerland: There is little physical contact between people when they are communicating. Undemonstrative body language is the norm. (See Letter 91.)
Taiwan: There is little intentional body contact between strangers and even between friends. (See China.)
Thailand: There is very limited physical contact between individuals. It is taboo to touch someone s head or to touch people with your feet. They don t show emotions freely in public. (See Letters 91 and 94.)
People stand closer than in most Western European and North American cultures. To
UK: There is relatively little physical contact in public. People don t show emotions freely in public. The V sign with the palm inward is an obscene sign. (See Letters 91, 93, 95, and 96.)
US: Americans stand eighteen to twenty-four inches apart when speaking. This is more than in the Middle East and Southern Europe but less than in Asia. For most North Americans, about an arm s length between two speakers is considered appropriate. (See Letters 91, 92, and 96.)
Venezuela: Constant eye contact, frequent touching, and lots of gestures commonly accompany communication. People are physically demonstrative. (See Letters 92 and 96.)