In a diversified world in which you frequently communicate with people from countries and cultures different from your own, anticipating and sidestepping nationalistic landmines is as vital a skill as being adept at reading, writing and arithmetic.
Unless, of course, you’re content and comfortable making faux pas, insulting others and demonstrating a lack of knowledge and respect, in which case, keep calm and carry on. Before you do, however, consider the possible outcomes.
Because your beliefs and attitudes influence your behavior, negative thinking can lead to disappointing, if not downright disastrous, consequences!
The first step in connecting with your audience, communicating a clear message, and creating productive relationships, is to note the behavior of the natives. By mirroring and matching — not miming or mocking — what you observe, you can begin building the foundation for successful intercultural relationships.
Start slow and keep it simple. If, for example, you’re in conversation with someone from China, contain your gestures and keep your face calm. Demonstrate quiet respect in your demeanor, and you’re on the right path. The same applies when engaging with Russians. Too much overt body language, such as ingratiating smiles, expansive gestures, and quick movements are viewed with suspicion, whereas in America and Australia a bit of back slapping, pinching, punching, and raucous laughter are the norm. Behave like that in Asia at your peril. Take the safe path and follow the rules of respectful and deferential behavior.
In Latin countries you’re expected to let your body do the talking. Thoughts, feelings, and intentions reveal themselves through gestures, movements, and facial expressions. Anger, love, passion, and pain are clearly conveyed through the flick of a finger, the whip of a wrist and the wink of an eye. In Southern Europe and South America, for example, specific hand and finger gestures convey clear intentions leaving the receiver in no doubt about the initiator’s thoughts and feelings.
In Nordic countries the opposite is true. You could cause your hostess to choke were you to demonstrate the same kind of behaviors as your southern cousins. Should you find yourself in any of the Scandinavian countries, wondering how to behave, think: Cool and Contained.
If you’re interested in learning more about cultural differences and communication go to ArgonautOnline. Until then, unless you’re familiar with the culture and its expectations keep your gestures to yourself. What is a sign of endearment at home can be rude and insulting somewhere else.