In today’s global business environment, you will likely visit foreign countries or build working relationships overseas. You may work directly with people from different cultures and backgrounds. Even if you work solely in your home country, you may have clients, colleagues, contractors, or suppliers from elsewhere. Improving your level of knowledge of international cultural difference in business can aid in building international competencies as well as enabling you to gain a competitive advantage.

Each of us knows how to use our body parts to send messages but not many of us realise that people in different parts of the world ‘speak’ different body languages. Humans have more than 700,000 forms of body language: facial expressions, gestures, mannerisms, greetings and degree of eye contact vary greatly across countries. Body language training is therefore a great asset to organisations with practical applications to leadership, sales, customer relations, HR and workplace dynamics.

When you are doing business with people from different countries and cultures, you should be aware that sometimes you may face some misunderstanding and perhaps feel insulted by someone else’s behavior. You need to understand that perceived insults are often entirely unintentional. #

So, while there are some general behaviors to be aware of, not every breach of etiquette will cause deep offense. Activia Training, a UK corporate training provider, has created an interesting interactive infographic that will help you developing awareness of cultural diversity to avoid exposing yourself as a person who may not respect another’s culture and customs. The guide provides insight on how working and communicating vary across cultures, and explains how your culture and language affects the ways in which you think and respond. Here are some examples of body language to be aware of:

  • The Eyes

The degree of eye contact that is considered acceptable varies from country to country. Is it better, for example, to look someone in the eye, to hold their gaze, or to keep your eyes averted deferentially?

Across Latin America and Africa, extended eye contact is seen as a challenge whereas, in the U.S. and Western Europe, it shows you are taking an interest in what someone is saying and is regarded as a sign of confidence.

  • Legs

Sitting cross-legged is common in North America and some European countries but it is viewed as disrespectful in Asia and the Middle East where one should never show the sole of the shoe to another person. In these cultures, a solid and balanced sitting posture is the prevailing custom.

  • Arms

While Northern Europeans associate gesturing with insincerity and over-dramatisation, some Mediterranean cultures, such as Italy, use their arms freely as a communication tool. Others, like the Japanese, are more reserved and they consider it impolite to gesture with broad movements of the arms.

  • Hands

When you exchange business cards in Japan or China, you are not simply exchanging names that are written on small pieces of card. You are exchanging important human emotions, which can take a business meeting from an ordinary first encounter to a fruitful long-term relationship.

Present your card with two hands: you are humbling yourself and asking the other person to accept your card. Same thing when you accept a business card, you are elevating the other person and showing gratitude for receiving their card.

  • Touching and Greetings

Shaking hands is the most common form of greeting and taking leave in Western cultures. Asians and Middle Easterners prefer a soft handshake, while in Western cultures strong grips are preferred.

While shaking hands is slowly gaining acceptance in Asia, many Asians still prefer a different form of greeting: a bow in East Asia, or a ‘wai’ (joining the two hands together) in some Southern and South-eastern Asian countries.

Remember, 60 to 90 percent of our communication with others is nonverbal, which means the body language we use is extremely important. Before traveling to a foreign country for business, it is a very important to read up about the body language etiquette of that culture.

In addition, it’s especially important to make a good first impression because within the first few minutes of meeting someone, we are already making decisions about what the other person’s intentions are, and whether or not the person is credible and someone we want to do business with.