Are your gestures conveying the right message?
Your gestures can sometimes say more than your words.
When I first immigrated to Canada back in the 80s, I was totally perplexed why people got so upset with the gesture of “the finger” when they fondly waved around “ two fingers” in some sort of victory dance. You see at that time, pointing two fingers to an individual with the back of your hands facing that individual in England was “swearing” or at least it did. Yes, that’s right- you are being rude. It is the “F” word. Whereas “the finger sign” was meaningless across the pond.
“Are you sure of the message you are conveying with your gestures?”
I recall a contract I was working on where I had the role to assess an organization’s readiness for an enterprise system implementation. The senior management for the most part were from North America. Middle management and most of the employee base ( about 80% ) were Asian, new immigrants. In a session of reviewing the organization’s performance, the senior management was totally animated. Arms, hands flapping, pointing and pleading for feedback from their employees. The requests were sincere however totally ineffective. In fact, the more animated the pleads, the more withdrawn the employees became.
The reasons were so obvious to me and yet perplexing for so many in the room.
The challenge was the “C” word. Culture.
Values, protocols totally mis-aligned on the personal level and consequently were ineffective motivators.
Gestures are taboo in many Asian countries. Depending on that gesture, it could be perceived as being totally disrespectful. Needless to say, gestures such as pointing, especially with the index finger, are taboo although directing with the full hand is usually acceptable. Now this is a sweeping generalization to demonstrate a point. I am not Asian, however my upbringing is such that I too would find pointing distasteful.
More recently, I was fortunate to work in Italy. A culture that is all about gestures and animation. I believe it is integrated into the language and often used to emphasize a point. I noted a gesture could be made without any words at all to convey a simple message like “Help me?” Amazing! However, because of this integration and its link to emotion, married to the fact that I do not speak Italian, I dared not make use of any of these gestures as I did not want to risk offending anyone. However, I must admit, it was pure delight to witness this language that seems to be an operatic dance for a newcomer like myself.
The Left Hand
I think it is widely known that using the left hand for any public purpose usually is unacceptable in many Middle Eastern countries. Or is it?
The OK sign. Or is it OK?
Another good example is the gesture below.
My work at one time took me to Brazil. As a result, I thought it important to research the culture before my visit. I learned:.
- In Brazil and Guatemala this sign is an insult.
- In Japan this gesture stands for coins and money.
- In France and Australia it stands for “zero” or “worthless”.
- In the UK and US it means O.K. An approval. However depending on the context of the conversation, it could also mean “zero”
With globalization and use of emojis for mobile apps and keyboarding, perhaps these gestures are becoming more acceptable. It is hard to say how they are being interpreted across cultures. I find myself not using the “OK” sign emoji, just in case! I also realize with time some gestures become more acceptable than others but there is still a grey line.
….And be careful on how you wave your hands around!
Have you had any experience like this? What are the do’s and don’ts in your culture?