Business Traveler (USA) - - CONTENTS - TERRI MOR­RI­SON

Give Me Five Your hands greet clients, touch loved ones and can send the wrong mes­sage

Hu­mans, in gen­eral, as­sim­i­late more in­for­ma­tion through their eyes than their ears. The abil­ity to un­der­stand non-ver­bal mes­sages is an im­por­tant skill for us all, but vi­tal in cer­tain pro­fes­sions: diplo­mats, lawyers, physi­cians, and of course – global trav­el­ers. Since over 50 per­cent of our com­mu­ni­ca­tion is based on body lan­guage, it be­hooves us all to re­al­ize that there are no ubiq­ui­tous ges­tures around the world: not a smile, not a wink, not even a wave.

Of all the pub­licly-vis­i­ble ap­pendages, our hands com­mand the most at­ten­tion. Your hands greet your clients, touch your loved ones, and can eas­ily send the wrong mes­sage. For ex­am­ple:

An at­tor­ney was dra­mat­i­cally de­scrib­ing the large size of a mur­der weapon to a jury, and to em­pha­size the length of the killing tool he slowly moved his hands apart, with two fin­gers ex­tended on each hand. Un­for­tu­nately, his demon­stra­tion missed the mark with the His­panic mem­bers of the jury, who start­ing shift­ing un­com­fort­ably and tit­ter­ing. Ev­i­dently, in much of Latin Amer­ica there is only one thing mea­sured with that ges­ture.

A wave is not al­ways in­nocu­ous ei­ther. Hold your hand out, with the palm away from you, and sep­a­rate the fin­gers a lit­tle bit. You now have the po­ten­tial to ac­knowl­edge a friend, wave good­bye, or im­ply that an African col­league has five fa­thers.

A vari­a­tion on the wave can be highly in­sult­ing in Greece too. If you force­fully shove an open hand with the fin­gers spread widely apart to­wards an­other per­son, you are giv­ing him a “Moutza!” A dou­ble Moutza (with two hands smack­ing one be­hind the other), is even worse. Osten­si­bly, the di­rec­tion of your palm can be the dif­fer­ence be­tween a fight and or­der­ing five fres­cas.

Even with all their pro­to­col of­fi­cers, US Pres­i­dents have in­ad­ver­tently in­sulted for­eign dig­ni­taries as well. Many have cheer­ily waved from Air Force One, and then given ev­ery­one a hearty “A-OK” (ob­scene in Brazil) or the “thumbs-up” sign (which is crude in the Mid­dle East).

Clearly, not all ges­tures are rude. A “wai” (given in Thai­land) is a prayer-like greet­ing, al­most equiv­a­lent to a “na­maste.” In a wai, both hands are held to­gether, and brought up to­wards the fore­head. It is a gra­cious way to ac­knowl­edge the god-like within oth­ers.

Here are a few more “handy” tips on global ges­tures:

• Avoid the Left Hand – The left hand is con­sid­ered un­clean in many parts of the world. Do not eat, pour drinks, pass food, hand out busi­ness cards, or touch ba­si­cally any­thing with your left hand.

• Care­ful with Come Here – A curv­ing in­dex finger is only used to call an­i­mals in many coun­tries. In­stead, peo­ple of­ten use a down­ward scoop­ing mo­tion in much of the Mediter­ranean and Africa. (US cit­i­zens some­times con­fuse this with “Go Away!”)

• Nix The Poin­ter – Avoid the ex­tended in­dex finger. It’s rude in al­most every cul­ture. Ges­ture with your en­tire hand (with the fin­gers to­gether) to in­di­cate some­thing, or in Eng­land, use your chin.

• Try the Snap – Dif­fer­ent from the US “oh, snap!” ges­ture, this is a Span­ish down­ward fling of the hand, where two fin­gers and the thumb some­how gen­er­ate an amaz­ingly loud sound. Used for em­pha­sis, it is im­pres­sive, and hard to im­i­tate.

• No Hands in your Lap – Po­lite in the US when din­ing. Ex­ceed­ingly dis­turb­ing to French and Ger­mans. What are you do­ing with your hands? Rest your wrists on the edge of the ta­ble.

While there are many more cul­tural nonos to share, we’ll close here with a show of hands from any­one who has never made a ges­ture gaffe. Con­grat­u­la­tions to those who have es­caped un­scathed; and for all those who haven’t – high-five!

Terri Mor­ri­son is a speaker and co-au­thor of nine books, in­clud­ing Kiss, Bow or Shake Hands: The Best­selling Guide to Do­ing Busi­ness in More Than Sixty Coun­tries, and her new book, Kiss, Bow or Shake Hands: Sales & Mar­ket­ing. She is pres­i­dent of Get­ting Through Cus­toms, de­vel­op­ers of Kiss Bow or Shake Hands Dig­i­tal - avail­able through McGraw-Hill. Terri Mor­ri­son@ kiss bow or­shake hands Twit­ter@ Kiss Bow Au­thor. Tel (610) 725-1040.

Visit www.kiss­bowor­shake­, and join the Kiss, Bow or Shake Hands Group on Linked In!

The di­rec­tion of your palm can be the dif­fer­ence be­tween a fight and or­der­ing five fres­cas

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