It's International People Skills Month - and with nothing more than a smile and facial expressions to unite us when traveling to foreign countries, mastering the art of body language is key for complete travel experience. As a body language expert, it's easy for me to see how we link to those around us without even saying a word.
I especially know the importance of stepping outside of our comfort zones; the only way we can truly understand the universal language of body talk.
It is, at most times when traveling abroad, the only link that we will find that connects every human being, no matter the culture of geographic location. A simple custom or sign of respect is vital to grasp before taking flight to your desired destination.
For example, it is customary to when we are out at a business lunch to simply eat the food that you have before you. In Chinese customs, business lunches are strictly that- a business lunch. Finishing your plate or eating most of the food your ordered is considered rude in Chinese culture.
"When you go to business parties, you are there to get a job done, so don't focus on the coffee, food, or whatever," says Benjamin Wey, as interviewed in the book, Body Language: Techniques on Interpreting Nonverbal Cues in the World and Workplace. Wey is Wall Street professional, professor at two Chinese universities, who has successfully become quite the chameleon of both the Chinese and US professional cultures.
"Body language teaches us everything about a person," Wey admits. "My professional career would be completely different if it were not for body language and my understanding of it." Frequenting both China and the US, Wey has come to understand that internationally, our ability to actively respect cultural customs becomes the currency within business. One key element that Wey has taken away from his travels abroad: "... that all people want to be treated with respect."
So, show your respect - and bone up on the local customs and traditions or the spots on your itinerary. Gather an understanding of what gestures or expressions are considered useful, and commit to memory those that may be offensive to your worldly neighbors.
For instance, in America - we use the A-ok sign rather frequently, after all, it's a friendly gesture signaling our compliance, agreement or pleasure at another individuals' words or actions. Yet, in many parts of the world, this gesture is known by a more obscene connotation. Defiantly not one you want to be using during that important client dinner!
Additionally, here in the US, we view our middle digits as one we don't use for pointing, unless someone cuts us off in traffic. However, in Europe it is perfectly acceptable to use the middle finger in everyday life - with no negative connotation whatsoever. Recognize this, and be cautious to put your own preconceived notions aside.
Though we started with but one language in common, body language, the cultures of the world have evolved. It is important to be able to identify and appreciate these differences; it will essentially make our world smaller as a result.
Janine Driver is the NY Times Bestselling author of You Say More Than You Think and a world renowned lecturer on the intricacies of body language and communication. Learn more at www.lyintamer.com.