The main form of communication for an individual is likely talking but associated with any type of in person communication is body language. Each culture holds their own understanding of body language and has designated gestures with meanings. As Moran, Harris and Moran explain a gesture can mean nothing, something different or the same thing to both individuals (p. 59). With the world becoming more and more intertwined with business and leisure it is imperative people who will be traveling or doing business with other cultures understand the way body language can be interpreted as something unintended. Body language is more than just using your hands or your posture it involves our head, face, eyes, nose, lips, mouth, arms, hands, legs and feet (Rugsaken, 2006). It would appear that it is easy to control your features and not offend anyone because we were all raised to understand what gestures from our cultures mean. Well so were the other people you’re interacting with and their understanding may have a different than what you know.
The smallest gesture that a culture can know as harmless can be highly offensive in another. The picture below shows how nodding the head, smiling, pointing, thumbs up and feet pointed in a certain direction can be misunderstood and found offensive in another culture.
Even though it has never been an issue before and it was never known that pointing feet could be offensive, sometimes people get offended and angry resulting in conflict with an ill outcome.
In 1988, two Laotian men walked into a Los Angeles bar where a singer, who was also from an Asian country, was entertaining patrons. The men sat at empty spaces near the front with their feet pointed straight to the singer. After the bar was closed, the singer followed the two men to a parking lot where they got into an argument about how the men pointed their feet at the singer’s face. The argument became fierce when the singer pulled out a gun and killed one of the men. (Rugsaken, 2006)
Nonverbal communication will occur whether you want it to or not. “A study by Ting-Toomey found that up to 65% (an estimate that goes up to 90%) of a message’s meaning is sent through nonverbal cues” (Moran, Harris, Moran, p. 58). Regsaken states, “people in other parts of the world, especially Asians, are more perceptive to body language than the North Americans” (2006). Being a North American I believe it is very important to learn the differences in body language to best of our ability in order to ensure we are not offending anyone we are doing business with from another culture.
Body language is universal but it has different meanings across the world. Understanding how you can offend someone or be perceived because of your gestures is important to know. Even here in our own country we are not always aware of how our body language can offend someone. Our body language sends messages to others about how we are feeling and what kind of person we are. Knowing what your body language gives off could give you the advantage.
Here is a video done by Dr. Amy Cubby on body language, she explains ways it can be interpreted.
Cuddy, D. (2014, January 20). Body Language and Confidence Uptown Dallas Counseling. Retrieved February 28, 2015, from http://uptowndallascounseling.com/body-language-and-confidence/
Harris, P., Moran, R., & Moran, S. (2011). Leadership in Creating Cultural Synergy. In Managing cultural differences (8th ed., pp. 232-251). Houston: Gulf Pub.
Rugsaken, K. (2006). Body speaks: Body language around the world. Retrieved from NACADA Clearinghouse of Academic Advising Resources Web site http://www.nacada.ksu.edu/Resources/Clearinghouse/View-Articles/body-speaks.aspx