Reading COMMUNICATION: NO PROBLEM?
Your director has sent you to meet business people at Pudong Airport. They are visitors coming from several countries, who are interested in the development of business in China. They are from Europe, North America, South America and Asia. They will be meeting at a major hotel with local business people and people who represent the Chinese government. Four people enter looking around in a curious way. You do not want to disappoint your boss, and this is an exciting experience for you, so you stand watching and listening.
The first person who arrives is Mr Garcia from Columbia, closely followed by Julia Smith from Britain. You introduce them to each other, and are surprised by what you see. Mr Garcia approaches Ms Smith, touches her shoulder and kisses her on the cheek. You see her step back appearing surprised, and take a few steps away from Mr Garcia. You think that there may have been a mistake. The visitor from Japan comes in smiling at the same time as George Cook from Canada. As they are introduced, Mr Cook reaches his hand out to the Japanese who bows. His nose touches Mr Cook’s moving hand, and they both apologize. There has been another mistake.
These are examples of learned or cultural “body language”. Not all cultures greet each other the same way, nor are they comfortable touching strangers or being too close or too far away. In the same way that people communicate with spoken language, they also express their feeling using unspoken “language” through keeping physical distance, actions or posture.
English people usually do not stand very close to others or touch strangers as soon as they meet. People from places like Spain, Italy or South American countries approach others closely and are more likely to touch them. Most people around the world now greet each other by shaking hands, but some cultures use other greetings as well. Japanese people will bow.
Ahmed Aziz is a businessman from Jordan. He moves very close to you as you introduce yourself to him. You move back a bit. He comes closer to ask you a question, and then shakes your hand. Madame Coulon is from France. She arrives hurrying, recognizes Mr Garcia’s smiling face, then they shake hands and kiss each other twice on each cheek. That is what French people usually do when they meet people they know. But Ahmed Aziz simply nods at the two women. Men from the Middle East or some Muslim countries often stand quite close to other men to talk. Many of them will not shake hands with women.
None of these actions is either good or bad. They are simply the ways in which cultures have developed. Body language is very general, and not all members of all cultures behave the same way. It is an interesting study and can help you avoid difficulty in communication.