Cross-Cultural Communication: Grin and Jump In!

Multiculturalism is a reality in North America and for those of us who do business globally. The US has more legal immigrants yearly than all the other countries in the world combined. Also there are vast cultural differences among "native" North Americans living in the US and Canada for several generations, as you know if you've done business with a New Yorker (better be quick!) or with a Texan (better stand at a 90degree angle to your male companion).

Culture is not ethnic or racial. It is learned and of course each culture is different. Treat everyone like a unique individual, as you would like to be treated, don't get hung up on stereotypes. Develop your emotional intelligence so you can be more intuitive about how to communicate with, negotiate with, and provide services and products for people from cultural backgrounds other than your own. I offer some tips below, and yet they are not universal in these cultures.

1. I repeat, do not expect everyone in a culture to be the same!

2. In South Texas, if you're talking to a male, they will often stand at a 90 degree angle to you.

If you move to reorient, a "dance" will begin. This is a markedly non-intimate position, and often the eyes are cast down to the floor or out across the floor. South Texans generally say "Pleased to know you," while Mid Westerners say, "Pleased to meet you" or "Pleased to make your acquaintance." In social settings in South Texas, it is not customary to shake hands with women. Other San Antonio cultural customs -- in San Antonio society, we have the haute hug - two women will parody a hug, not touching any part of their bodies, and just patting one another lightly on the back. As a sign of affection, when you shake hands, sometimes you cover the other person's hand with your left hand and pat or squeeze with warm eye contact. This is particularly done with respected older people.

3. Be aware that most of the world does not greet by shaking hands.

4. People from Asian cultures bow in greeting, but the bows are different.

People from Cambodia and Laos bow with both hands together in front of the chest, as if praying. In Japan, the depth of the bow signifies the level of respect for the other party. Many Koreans prefer bowing and if they shake hands, the right hand is supported at the wrist by the left hand to show respect. Thais bow with palms together about chest-high with their fingers outstretched. And, there are exceptions. The Taiwanese usually nod the head in recognition rather than bow.

5. Some cultures naturally greet by hugging.

Native Hawaiians hug each other, exchanging breaths. The custom is called "ha." Ancient Hawaiians, incidentally, actually bumped heads together. Mexicans use the abrazo. Greeks and Italians often hug with or without shaking hands first.

6. Some cultures kiss!

If your Cuban male client kisses you on the cheek, you know you've made the short list. Immigrant men from the Middle East often shake hands with a slight nod or bow and then exchange kisses on both cheeks. Men from the Middle East usually don't shake hands with women, nor do they introduce the woman with them. Do not attempt to shake hands with a Middle Eastern woman unless -- and here's where the EQ comes in -- she extends her hand to you. Men in Eastern Europe, Portugal, Spain and Italy will often kiss male friends on the cheek.

7. Pakistanis (largely Muslims) greet with salaam, which is the equivalent of our "hello."

The salaam is done by bowing with the palm of the right hand on the forehead. Salaam means "peace" or "Peace be with you."

8. Postures also have meaning.

Ready to settle in with your Middle Eastern client? You may be most comfortable sitting back in your chair and crossing your legs. Well, don't! In the Middle East, one of the most insulting things you can do is sit with your legs crossed so the bottoms of the feet are pointed in the other person's direction. The foot is the dirtiest part of the body and the sole of the shoe is the dirtiest of the low. To show someone the bottom of your foot or shoe means you're looking for a fight!

9. Even handshaking cultures do it differently.

Many Britian's prefer a brief but firm handshake. The French prefer a light grip while sharing a single gentle shake that's quickly withdrawn. Germans will give a very firm handshake -- just one "pump" then quick withdrawal. More than one shake with Germans or French is considered aggressive. Italians will shake hands and then hug friends or kiss them on both cheeks.

10. Bear in mind the other person may be trying to accommodate your culture, so don't assume they will use their traditional greeting.

For example, if you start first, for instance bowing, and then see a hand extended for a shake, and switch to that, the other person will then have switched to a bow and this becomes awkward. For many cultures such "awkwardness" will kill the relationship early on, which means the deal is off.

11. Greetings are critical first moves in relationships.

Begin with a polite word or two, such as "Mr. and Mrs. Takida, it's so nice to meet you at last," and then hesitate for a moment to see what they want to do and are comfortable with. Then mirror their gesture, be it bow, hand shake, abrazo (hug) or nothing! Use your intuition! When in doubt, err on the side of conservatism.

I look forward to the day when we abandon our collective need for safety through homogeneity and reclaim our natural curiosity about what is not like us. We then will no longer need to "manage" diversity, and will have no need other than to engage it and open ourselves to receive its gifts.

About The Author

Since the early 1980s, Judith Richardson, M.A., has been pioneering in the fields of sustainable leadership, essential partnership, international teamwork, educational renewal, creating a customer service culture and workplace diversity. Featured in ICFAI University's Executive Reference on Diversity Management, author of Four Keys to Engaging Leadership, and Keynote at International Conferences, Judith was nominated for International Coach of the Year 2003, and works with International Organizational Development across North America, Europe, Jamaica, Denmark, Sweden, Israel and Russia. (www.ponoconsultants.com www.emergentfeminine.com). Tel: (902) 434-6695.

JudithRicha[email protected]

In The News:


Forbes

Team Building: Minders, Finders, Grinders
Forbes
There is so much chatter out there about how to hire and retain workers (millennials in particular). You could drown in 'good' advice. But one thing is certain: team building is harder than it looks, and harder than people want to admit. In 2014, my ...


Don't Wing It with Team-Building Activities
SHRM
That type of thing worked for some but not for others," said David Lengyel, managing director of Phoenix-based Venture Up, which conducts team-building activities. "Clients were coming back and saying, 'We have 200 people, not 12, and four hours, not ...


Entrepreneur

4 Ways Team-Building Rituals Can Actually Destroy a Team
Entrepreneur
Team-building rituals are meant to strengthen a company culture, but they may in fact be doing the opposite. In a study published in the National Library of Medicine, researchers sought to find out the overall effects that team-building rituals have on ...


Forbes

Is It Still Considered 'Team Building' If They Force You To Participate?
Forbes
We waste hours on this stuff. People even call in sick to avoid the "team-building" events. Our HR Director is gung-ho but she doesn't listen. I have tried to tell her that our work is interesting enough to keep us "engaged" (her favorite word) and we ...


Quartz

The team-building rituals that companies love can actually tear workers apart
Quartz
If you've ever lost a glove somewhere on the streets of New York City, there's a chance it's found an unusual second life at the New York headquarters of OXO—the global housewares manufacturer. Enter the company's open loft-style dining hall, and you ...


NCAA.com

Women's volleyball: Unique team building exercises help jump-start VCU's season
NCAA.com
The Rams from Richmond, fresh off a 3-0 showing at their own VCU Invitational this past weekend that included a 3-0 sweep of Northwestern (the program's first win against a Big Ten school), are among the nation's top teams in blocking (holding a 174-88 ...


The Journal Pioneer

Road trip to Yarmouth good for Caps' team-building - coach
The Journal Pioneer
Summerside D. Alex MacDonald Ford Western Capitals Kallum Muirhead, 10, carries the puck across the line last season. He had a powerplay goal and an assist in the Caps only game so far this season, a 4-3 loss to Woodstock Slammers last weekend.


New Scientist

The NHS is using a chatbot to do tedious corporate team-building ...
New Scientist
The UK's National Health Service and 10 big firms are experimenting with CoachBot, which replaces "coaching and development" staff with an automated ...

and more »

MyCentralJersey.com

Metuchen Proving Ground Team Building Challenge was 'awesome to witness'
MyCentralJersey.com
Metuchen High School's inaugural Proving Ground Team Building Challenge, of which The Marisa Tufaro Foundation was a beneficiary, was such a resounding success that Board of Education member Justin Manley hopes the event will grow in the future.


KETV Omaha

High school freshmen conquer obstacles to build team spirit
KETV Omaha
A sort of rite of passage, the ROPES course is an annual team-building exercise for freshmen at Papillion-La Vista South High School. It is a tradition 13 years strong, in which freshman take on physical and mental challenges, getting to know each ...

Google News

3 Steps To Successfully Build A Team In Any Program

Any x by y matrix plan has one big risk...... Read More

Consensus: The Right Team Decision Strategy?

Consensus is the appropriate decision strategy for the most important... Read More

Building Teams -You see it everywhere

A college football team has it. A corporation has it.... Read More

Motivation - Dont Make Your Team Uncomfortable

The people in your team may feel a bit uncomfortable... Read More

Feedback For Learning Can Turn Your Team Into Winners

Feedback:Most experts agree both types; constructive and positive feedback are... Read More

The 5 Bes of Motivation

It's not true in every organization, but it is true... Read More

How to Boost Morale In Your Organisation

Who keeps the wheels turning in your organisation? Who holds... Read More

What Every Manager, Parent, and Teacher Should Know About How to Unify Employees, Families, & Youth

Project Head Start has been successful not only for the... Read More

A Team That Gleamed

Too many techies get a bad rap for lacking teamwork... Read More

Company Picnic Ideas and Planning Tips

The company picnic is a beloved tradition at many firms.It's... Read More

Why It Pays to Out More Humor in the Workplace

1. Humor reduces stress levels and stress is the number... Read More

Recruiting Government Workers As Franchisees

Many believe a leaner government promotes better freedoms with respect... Read More

How to Turn Idea Squashers into Possibilities

Managing a small business continues to become more challenging. However,... Read More

Virtual Team Work

At a time when many companies are scaling down their... Read More

Leadership, Genuine, Meaningful and Productive

One of the best lessons I have learned is the... Read More

Building Teams

Young minds are quite easy to shape. International Terrorist recruiters... Read More

Presenteeism - present in body absent in productivity

Presenteeism is alive and 'not well' in many businesses today.... Read More

Leading the Witness: How Asking Questions as a Trainer Can Limit Learning and Reduce Trust

"Asking questions can be a means of establishing authority, fulfilling... Read More

People Are The Heart Of Your Organization

Do you let your people express their thoughts about the... Read More

Listening Between the Lines

Have you seen the tee-shirt with the slogan, "Talk to... Read More

Dealing with People that Drive You Crazy!

We all know someone who just drives us batty. Perhaps... Read More

Teamwork in the Workplace: A Definition

A tight knit team is a group of competent individuals... Read More

Building a Successful Team

Once you've set a goal for yourself as a leader... Read More

Yes, But What Are You Really Saying?

More and more I hear people misunderstanding what someone else... Read More

Putting the I in Team

This sports cliche is a memorable phrase that reminds people... Read More