Let’s say you’re fortunate enough to speak to people from another country or perhaps you are speaking in your own country but to an international audience. Either way we all know the value of non-verbal communication. It’s vitally important however to realize there are clearly gestures you want to avoid based on the risk of being perceived negatively when addressing mixed cultures. Here are a few examples:
- Ok sign: To many of us, this gesture means “okay.” If you’re speaking to individuals from Brazil, Germany, or Russia, this gesture may be taken offensively because it refers to a private bodily orifice. For that matter, in Japan, this gesture means “money.”
- Thumbs up: To many of us, this gesture means “job well done.” If you’re speaking to individuals from Australia, Greece, or the Middle East, this gesture means “up yours “or “sit on this.”
- Pointing: To many of us, pointing with the index finger at someone or something is viewed offensively or as impolite by many other cultures. Best practice is to use an open hand with all your fingers together if you wish to point either at something or someone.
- Curling the index finger with an upward facing palm: To many of us, this gesture is how we beckon someone to come closer. However, in many Asian countries, this is how only dogs are beckoned. It’s important to note that in much of Europe and parts of Asia, it is considered appropriate to beckon someone to come closer by keeping your palm facing downward with your fingers moving in a scratching gesture.
These four gestures are a sample of what you want to avoid when communicating cross-culturally. The best advice is to inquire before you speak to a culture different than your own. It’s always best to be aware of what is and isn’t acceptable vs. risking an inadvertent error and ultimately offending others and tarnishing your reputation.