Understanding basic cultural differences important when working abroad
Cultural differences, particularly the different meanings of gestures and body language, are important to understand when working in a new country. Proper preparation in knowing how to send and receive culturally appropriate signals can help with the success of a new assignment, according to Re:Locate magazine.
Body language signals vary by country and situation. Understanding the body language and gestures that are universal and generally accepted – and those that are offensive – aids in successful communication in the workplace and in the community. For example, although pointing at a person during conversation is engaging in Europe, it can be perceived as rude in Asia. Giving the "thumbs up" signal can actually be helpful when making a point or showing the other employee something specific. A handshake can be tricky as well. Many Westerners feel that a firm handshake is the best way to show respect. However, in Asia, this can be highly offensive, and may be demeaning to some; a faster, lighter handshake will work more effectively.
Other hand gestures can have varying meanings as well. One example of this is the "OK sign," in which a person extends the middle, ring and smallest finger, while making an "O" shape with their index finger and thumb. This is considered to be a positive sign of acceptance to the issue at hand in the vast majority of the Western world. In Japan, this gesture signals that someone is ready to speak about specific financial issues. However, in Brazil, this is actually a highly obscene gesture, and must be avoided at all costs.
When working in the Middle East – specifically in Arab countries – a transferee must be mindful of the signals they are sending with their shoes: showing the soles of your shoes to anyone at any time is perceived as a most offensive gesture. This can be a difficult adjustment, as many Western Europeans commonly cross their legs during a seated conversation. However, this gesture can result in the exposure of shoe soles to another person, which can severely damage the relationship in Middle Eastern culture.
Proper cultural training is critical in preparing a transferee for work and life in their new country. Sending the right signals with body language or gestures helps contribute to the overall success of the assignment.
Filed under: International Relocation Services