How to learn a foreign body language

07/27/2015

How to learn a foreign body language

My name is Mirabel and I work for an agricultural company based in South America. I knew my English was good when I started the job, so I expected my first big meeting, which happened to be in Turkey, to be a big success. I was very wrong. The problem was that I neglected the importance of body language.

I remember I kept nodding my head in consent, thinking that the meeting was going well, that I understood what the client wanted from us. Unfortunately later I learned that nodding your head means the exact opposite in Turkey: by nodding my head I was telling them "no". I was extremely embarrassed when I was told this. From that point on, I found myself closed off in meetings, crossing my arms and keeping a blank face; I was just too afraid to do something insensitive. This was the wrong approach, and I'd like to share a few tips I've learned about unspoken communication.

Did you know that 55% of what we say is expressed through body language? And I don't mean using your tongue to pronounce words, either. I'm talking about gestures, facial expressions, etc. While cultural tips are really the only thing to prevent a situation like mine in Turkey, there are still several strategies that work well in just about every language:

  • Your facial expression should match your words.

    If you are sharing a happy thought, have a happy facial expression. The same is true if you are sharing sad news.
  • Don't be afraid to talk with your hands.

    They can underscore what your mouth is saying and help you convey your message.
  • Don't close off your body by crossing your arms and legs.

    Such a posture can give the wrong impression, and communication is about openness!
  • Shake hands.

    This is an important one. Statistically, the people whose hands you shake are two times more likely to remember you than those whose hands you don't shake. Remember that the next time you go into a business meeting!
  • Research cultural greetings.

    Though a handshake is known around the world, different cultures have different greetings. You can score big if you do your research in advance.

 


If you are looking for ways to increase your cultural awareness and acquire language tips on how to learn English, consider using the Cultural Navigator®. This handy tool from TMC - A Berlitz Company helps you better understand your own cultural preferences and their impact as well as pinpoint cultural challenges and determine solutions. With the Cultural Navigator® you will be better placed to interact with international colleagues and customers.
 

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