Monday, November 17, 2008

What Does Your Body Language Tell The World

Writen by Keith MacLean

If your business requires you to travel internationally, or meet regularly with people of other countries, are you aware of what your gestures and body language are communicating? We all know that different cultures have different gestures and different levels of comfort with certain body language, but do you know the specifics for the nationalities you deal with? You should, as your trustworthiness and credibility may be at stake. Here are a few tips to remember about your body language in your next international meeting.

Don't use "signs" with your hands- You may have no idea what your commonly used symbol means in other countries. Here are some examples – the ok sign so commonly seen in the US means worthless or zero in France. Worse yet, in Brazil it is considered vulgar, so you might get slapped if you flash it to a woman from that country. The thumbs up symbol that is widely recognized in the western world as a positive sign means "get stuffed", or something very close to that in Bangladesh. At best, your audience may have no clue what your gesture means; at worst it may be offensive. Best bet - just keep any signs for your fellow countrymen!

Don't wave your arms - Talking with your hands is common – and nearly expected in Italy, but in many Asian cultures it is considered distracting, a sort of meaningless chatter. Your best chance of having your speech or presentation have worldwide appeal is to keep your arm movements to a minimum.

Keep your distance, maybe – Knowing what is expected in the culture you're visiting or working with is important. For instance, in the UK, Canada and the US, we're most comfortable with somewhere around 18-24 inches distance between us when we talk. In other parts of Europe, they prefer to be a bit closer, about 14-16 inches difference. In Asian countries, they like even more distance – as much as 36 inches in Japan. But, in Middle Eastern cultures, standing 24-36 inches away from your associate would make you seem very untrustworthy. They prefer a distance of around 8-12 inches between parties when talking.

Your body language is crucial when conducting business. International negotiations can be difficult enough without having your body unintentionally send insulting or inappropriate messages. So take care… and maybe sit on your hands!

Keith MacLean presents his Psychology of Persuasion and Body Language seminars for a reasonable fee to groups of all sizes worldwide. When you are ready for more check out

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