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Non-Verbal Communication Can Tell On You! Be careful with gestures

November 6, 2009

Nonverbal communication is the process of communicating through sending and receiving wordless messages.  These messages can be communicated through gesture and touch, by body language or posture, by facial expression and eye contact. Nonverbal communication can also be conveyed through object communication, such as through your clothing, hairstyle, grooming and confidence—or lack thereof. 

Today’s newsletter will focus on gestures that, globally speaking, could be land mines for a faux pas.  Very few gestures are universally understood and interpreted the same way. What is perfectly acceptable in the United States may be rude, or even obscene, in other cultures.

It is important to understand how the gestures we use unconsciously may be misunderstood.  

vInterpretations of 10 common gestures. 

1. Beckoning with your index finger. It means “Come here” in the U.S., but it is insulting, or even obscene, in many cultures. Expect a reaction when you beckon this way to someone from the Middle or Far East, Portugal, Spain, Latin America, Japan, Indonesia and Hong Kong.

2. Pointing at something in the room using the index finger. It is impolite to point with the index finger in the Middle and Far East.

3. Making a “V” sign. Think back to Winston Churchill and his famous V for victory signal in most of Europe when you make this sign with your palm facing away from you. If you face your palm in, the same gesture means “Shove it.”

4. Smiling is universally understood.  However, in various cultures there are different reasons for smiling. The Japanese may smile when they are confused or angry. In other parts of Asia, people may smile when they are embarrassed. People in other cultures may not smile at everyone to indicate a friendly greeting as we do in the United States. A smile may be reserved for friends. It is important not to judge folks because they do not smile, or smile at what we would consider “inappropriate” times.

5. Shoe soles showing in many cultures sends a rude message. If you cross your leg and the sole of your shoe is seen, you have just insulted your host in Asia and in the Middle East. In Thailand, Japan and France, as well as countries of the Middle and Near East, showing the soles of the feet demonstrates disrespect. You are exposing the lowest and dirtiest part of your body, so this is insulting. Consider the meaning of that journalist’s gesture of throwing his shoe at President Bush.

6. Forming a circle with fingers means “O.K.” in the U.S. and in many countries around the world, but there are some notable exceptions:  In Brazil and Germany, this gesture is obscene. In Japan, this means “money.” In France, it means “zero” or “worthless.”

7. Pass an item to someone with one hand. In Japan this is very rude. Even a very small item such as a pencil must be passed with two hands. In many Middle and Far Eastern countries, it is rude to pass something with your left hand, which is considered “unclean.”

8. Nod head up and down to say “Yes.” In Bulgaria and Greece, this gesture means “No.”

9. Be aware of how close you are standing to someone. Closer than 18 inches and you could be standing in someone’s intimate space. A good clue is when they back up from you.

10. In Asia if you eat all of your food or drink your entire glass of saki, you have silently told your host that you have not had enough to eat or drink. Think how many times as a child growing up in North America you have been told to eat all of your food.

If you operate in a global world, it is imperative to be savvy in your International Protocol. These gestures are just a few tips to keep you from committing a deal-breaking faux pas. Consult with Protocol, Inc. for a country briefing when traveling internationally or when hosting an international visitor.

One Comment leave one →
  1. January 5, 2012 3:07 AM

    Diablo 3

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