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Do you have an upcoming interview for an international job?

Or a key meeting with someone from a different culture?

Body language can play an important role.

Body language is non-verbal communication. Handshakes, eye contact, and facial expressions can send powerful messages. Your body language introduces you before you even speak. 

There are cultural differences in how people use body language to communicate. Sometimes it’s obvious, but more often it's not. So before you start practicing the perfect handshake for your next interview, here's what you need to know...

Greeting With A Handshake

Evena simple handshake can vary from culture to culture . Flaticon Icon

  • In Canada and the US, a firm handshake is seen as strong and confident. It can convey mutual trust and respect.  

  • In Turkey, a firm handshake is considered rude and aggressive. It's not unusual for a person to maintain the handshake so long that they start holding your hand. It’s a gesture of friendship.

  • In Japan, China, and the Philippines, a weak handshake is preferred and people often hold on to the handshake longer.

  • In France, shake hands quickly and lightly. If you are close, a kiss on both cheeks is appropriate. 

  • In Australia, shake firm and fast. Women may not shake hands with other women. 

  • In Thailand, never shake hands. The person will offer a “Wai” which is placing palms together at chest level and bowing. 

  • In China, age matters, so greet the oldest people first. A light grip and slight bow are normal. 

  • In Russia, a handshake is rarely done between opposite sexes as men shaking hands with women can be seen as impolite. 

  • Brazilians offer a firm handshake and maintain eye contact.

  • In Mexico, a long lasting handshake is customary. If you are a man this can be followed by a hug.

  • In India, the "Namaste" gesture combined with a slight bow is used in place of handshake.

  • In the Middle East, men typically do not shake hands with women outside their family. Otherwise a gentle handshake is typical. 

  • In some African countries, a limp handshake is the standard. Handshake protocol in Africa varies.

Handshakes are as diverse as the people that initiate them. 

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Quiz

How do people in China prefer their handshakes?

They like stronger handshakes

They like weaker handshakes

Trick question: they don't shake hands

They like shorter handshakes

Making Eye Contact

Photo by Asit Khanda on UnsplashPhoto by Asit Khanda on Unsplash

In some countries, making eye contact is a sign of confidence and attention.

If someone looks away while talking to you it might indicate that they are disinterested. 

In other countries, avoiding eye contact is a sign of respect for bosses and elders.Flaticon Icon

Eye Contact Differences by Culture: 

  • Longer eye contact is normal in many regions such as the Middle East, Europe and countries in the Western hemisphere. 

  • Eye contact is used somewhat carefully in African and Middle Eastern countries, as well as Korea and Thailand. 

  • Eye contact is used carefully in most of the Far East.

Quiz

How much eye contact should you aim to make during an interview in Canada?

100% of the time

Less than 20% of the time

40-60% of the time

At least 80% of the time

Sitting Positions And Personal Space

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Be aware of your sitting position and posture during an interview.

When it comes to personal space, what is normal in one country can be uncomfortable in another.

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Sitting Positions and Personal Space Differences by Culture: 

  • Sitting with crossed legs is common in North American and European countries.

  • Sitting cross-legged is seen as disrespectful in Japan, especially in the presence of someone older than you.

  • Showing the soles of your shoes or feet, which are considered dirty, can offend people in the Middle East.

  • In China, it's common for people to stand very close to one another. 

  • In Japan, it’s common to stay farther apart. One reason is the need for extra space to bow when greeting others. 

  • Latin American cultures use a lot of touch in normal conversation. When speaking to someone from a Latin American country, be prepared to stand very close. 

  • In North America, it is important for people to keep their personal bubble and keep a certain distance during a conversation. 

Quiz

What is the best sitting position for an interview with someone of unknown nationality?

Sit straight with both feet on ground

Slumped forward to show respect

Reclined to be comfortable

Crossed legs to show confidence

Nodding In Dis/agreement

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Nodding your head while speaking can be a good way of supporting your words or adding meaning to them especially during an interview. But nodding doesn't signal agreement in all countries.

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Head Movement Differences by Culture:

  • In many countries, nodding your head means “Yes” or that you are in agreement. But for Bulgarians and Greeks it means the opposite. 

  • Indians often tilt their head from side to side to confirm something and demonstrate that they are actively listening.

  • In Japan, a head nod means that you have been heard, but not necessarily that there is agreement. 

  • In Cyprus, Iran, and Turkey, a single nod of the head up (not down) indicates a "No".

Summary

For any interview, in whatever country it happens, it's important to feel comfortable and display good manners. Understanding cultural differences can improve a first impression and make you more successful.

For your next big interview, research the background of the organization where you want to work. Consider the nuances of body language as you prepare.

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This Byte has been authored by

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Margaret Proffitt

Learning Designer | Travel Junkie | Book Lover