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Cross-Cultural Business: Behaviour Richard R. Gesteland 5 страница

I could not believe it. Here we were hurtling around curves and roaring through dimly-lit tunnels at high speed in a car driven one-handed by a guy whose eyes were focused mainly on the passenger next to him rather than on the road ahead.

About half way to Milan I broke my long silence to croak, "Okay Giorgio, it's my turn to drive now!" And for the next eight years I did most the driving when I was in Italy. I never was able to get used to that particular facet of Italian gaze behavior.


Eye Contact in the Pacific Rim


Business visitors to East and Southeast Asia should prepare themselves to encounter exactly the opposite style of gaze behavior. Here a direct gaze may be interpreted as a hostile act. For instance, with the Japanese I try not to stare them in the eye across the conference table.

Many Japanese and other Asians feel uncomfortable with strong eye contact. Singaporean Chinese have asked me, "X"y are you looking so fierce?" Intense eye contact makes many Asians think you are trying to intimidate them, to 'stare them down.'

Similarly it is a good idea to avoid a direct gaze on the street. In Malaysia and Singapore - both countries with relatively little violent crime - a man staring at another male is assumed to be provoking a fight. And a woman who makes more than fleeting eye contact with a man is assumed to want sex with him right then and there.

Some visitors think to avoid such problems by donning sunglasses. Unfortunately that solution creates another problem: In Southeast Asia it is rude to have your dark glasses on when conversing with someone.

There is one more aspect of gaze behavior of interest to globe-trotting negotiators. In the highly expressive, intense-gaze cultures of the Mediterranean region two men talking to each other will stand practically nose to nose, directly facing each other. This stance allows plenty of opportunity for eye-reading and face-reading.

By way of contrast, in the more moderate-gaze cultures of the UK and North America one often sees two business people conversing at right angles to each other. Anglo-Saxons feel less need for reading each other's expressions. They may even feel uncomfortable with too much face-to-face contact.


Nonverbal Negotiating Behavior: Kinesics


Two aspects of kinesics are of special importance for international negotiators: facial expressions and hand and arm gestures. Expressive people employ plenty of both while their brothers and sisters from the more reserved cultures are famous for 'poker faces' and little bodily movement.

Expressive negotiators gesticulate to add emphasis to what they are saying as well as to send nonverbal messages. Those from reserved cultures value restrained nonverbal behavior and discourage open display of emotion.

Expressive Latins seem to wear their hearts on their sleeves. They trust people who show their feelings openly and distrust those who mask their emotions. In contrast, the tacitum Japanese and Germans may regard such displays as childish and immature.


Facial Expression: Raised Eyebrows


Negotiators are likely to encounter raised eyebrows in many parts of the world. But flashing one's eyebrows sends different signals in different cultures.


Fig. 7.7


North Americans Interest. Surprise

Filipinos "Hello!"

British Skepticism

Arabs "No!"

Germans "You are clever!"

Chinese Disagreement


What this list shows is that the same expression can have a different meaning - sometimes even the opposite meaning - in another culture. The same applies to hand and arm gestures.


Ambiguous Gestures


Use of Left Hand. The left hand is considered unclean in Muslim, Hindu and Buddhist cultures. Avoid touching people or handing them objects such as your business card with the left hand. An American expatriate manager in Indonesia, the most populous Muslim country, learned that while he could sign letters and documents with his left hand he had to hand them to people with his right.

A participant in one of our "Negotiating in the Pacific Rim" seminars- at the University of Wisconsin's Management Institute asked what to do in Thailand. He had traveled to Bangkok enough to know that the left hand is considered unclean there. But he also knew that to show respect to high-status persons you have to hand them a gift or a business card with both hands.

We explained that the Thais and some other Asians have found a neat way to dodge the horns of the two-hand dilemma. The approved procedure is to offer the object in your right hand cupping your right elbow with the left hand. Thus both arms are involved, showing respect, while only the (clean) right hand actually touches the object being passed.


Showing the Sole of Your Shoe. The bottom of your shoe or of your foot is also regarded as unclean in the same cultures. Foreign visitors should avoid crossing their legs in such a way that the sole of their shoe is visible to anyone.


Patting a Child on the Head. The Buddhist-influenced cultures of Southeast Asia believe that a child's soul resides in his or her head. To touch the head risks damaging the soul. This taboo is a bit frustrating for me. At the Bangkok airport Thai children often come up to me, fascinated by this strange-looking farang. I have to constantly restrain myself from patting them on the head.


Fist in Palm. Giving my first presentation in Southeast Asia I emphasized the key point by pounding the palm of my left hand with my right fist. When several people in the audience gasped or tittered I knew right away I had committed a faux pas. After the talk two local people kindly came forward to tell me that bit of body language is similar to an obscene sexual gesture.


Index Finger.. Pointing. Throughout East and Southeast Asia it is very rude to point at anyone with your forefinger. Instead, use your whole hand - flat with the palm down in Japan, clenched with the thumb on top in most of the ASEAN countries. You may also jerk your chin in the direction you wish to indicate. The most subtle way is simply glance in the direction you wish to indicate.


Index Finger.. Beckoning. During one of my seminars at the Niels Brock Business College in Copenhagen a professor opened the lecture room door and signaled to a colleague by crooking her index finger in the familiar Euro-American beckoning motion. Which provided me with a perfect opportunity to explain that all over Asia that particular gesture is reserved for calling dogs and prostitutes. A repeated scooping motion of the right hand is the polite way to beckon those who happen to be neither canines nor ladies of the night.


Tapping Your Head. Non-Europeans are constantly amazed that body language can vary so widely within this tiny appendage of the Eurasian land mass.

A good example is the head tap.

In France, Italy and Germany if you tap your forehead or temple with your finger while looking at someone you are saying nonverbally, "Hey, you are stupid!"

Be particularly careful using that sign in Germany where it is called Vogelzeigen and will cost you a DM 75 fine if the Polizei catch you doing it

In Spain or Great Britain that same gesture is self-referential and means, "I am so clever!"

In the Netherlands, watch carefully. If a Dutchman taps the right side of his head with the index finger vertical it translates "You are a very smart person." But if he taps his forehead with the finger horizontal he is saying "You are an idiot!"


The 'Thumbs Up' Sign. Be careful with this one too. While the raised thumb is slowly becoming a universal sign for "Great!" it isn't quite there yet. In Germany and other parts of Europe for example it signifies the numeral one. But to many Europeans and Muslim peoples it is a very rude sexual sign.


The 'Peace" Sign. The two-fingered V gesture - the first two fingers extended with palm facing outwards - meant V for victory during World War II. But if you accidentally reverse your hand and flash the sign with your palm facing inwards, you have really done it. Should that happen you had better be bigger than the person you just insulted, because the peace sign reversed means roughly the same thing as 'flipping the bird' - raising your middle finger with the palm in.


The 'A-OK' Sign. The thumb-and-forefinger circle is easily the most dangerous and ambiguous of gestures. Of course most of its multiple meanings are harmless enough:

American astronauts: "Everything OK. All systems go!"

For the Japanese the circular shape looks like a coin, so it means "Now we are talking about money."

In the south of France that shape symbolizes the zero, so it indicates quite the opposite - "nothing" or "worthless."

But in the Iberian peninsula, much of Latin America, parts of Europe and Russia, LOOK OUT! In those cultures it is used as a vulgar sexual suggestion - extremely insulting. The risk of giving offense is so great that I have stopped using the A-OK sign entirely for fear of flashing that sign in the wrong place.


The Cultural Relativity of Business Behavior


The susceptibility of nonverbal language gestures to misinterpretation underlines a major challenge for people trying to do business across cultures: Behavior which is polite and quite proper in our culture may be rude and highly offensive in another.

To help international business travelers avoid damaging blunders our next chapter focuses on global business protocol.

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