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5 Key Aspects of Body Language

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Body language is vital for efficient communication, especially when interacting with people from different cultures. Be sure to keep these differences in mind when traveling, working, or relocating abroad, as being familiar with these cultural norms will help expats and tourists smoothly assimilate into a new way a life


Eye Contact

In most western cultures, people place a large importance on maintaining eye contact during conversations. This conveys a sense of confidence and comfort and ensures that each person involved in the conversation is paying attention. Not only does it show interest and engagement in the discussion, but it is also seen as a sign of respect. If people in these cultures are not given an adequate amount of eye contact, they may get the impression that someone is bored, not paying attention, or does not understand what is being said to them.


“The most important thing in communication is hearing what isn’t said.”

-Peter F. Drucker


There are many other cultures, however, that hold very different views on eye contact. Most Asian countries, especially those who are more hierarchical, consider eye contact to be inappropriate in most interactions. These cultures place a high level of respect on rank in society. For example, a young person may not make eye contact while speaking with someone older than them as a sign of respect. Similarly, an employee might refrain from looking at their boss directly in the eye during a business meeting to show respect. This is important to remember while traveling or working in Asian or even some Latin American countries – any eye contact may be seen as overly aggressive and disrespectful.

A photo of two people shaking hands

Tone

When speaking to people from different countries, it is crucial to remember the other verbal cues that we give people while speaking. Especially when dealing with a language barrier, it is important to keep tone appropriate and straightforward. Someone from another culture may not pick up on sarcasm or any other type of playful, joking tone. Additionally, when speaking with someone whose native language is different from one's own, it can be hard to infer certain things by using tone. Try to be as straightforward as possible when speaking to avoid any potential confusion. 

Posture

Posture is another aspect of non-verbal communication that varies from culture to culture. Sitting with legs crossed is relatively common in Europe and North America. However, the same position may be considered rude in certain Middle Eastern and Asian cultures.

A photo of two women sitting at a table with a laptop

Gestures

Different hand gestures can mean very different things across borders. Be cognizant of various hand gestures, body positions, and head movements. For example, in some Eastern European countries like Bulgaria, nodding your head side to side means "yes" rather than no. Shaking your head up and down means "no," rather than "yes”. Americans view keeping their hands in their pockets as a causal and common practice but the Japanese view this as a sign of ignorance and disrespect. Read our blog to learn more about hand gestures around the world.

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