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LAST WORDS: When Nodding Doesn’t Mean Yes
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When Nodding Doesn’t Mean Yes
By Caitlin Hardy

BT 201801 Last 01      虽然语言是信息交流的基本载体,但在人与人交谈时,肢体语言也承载了大量的传递信息的功能。我们在面对面交流和近距离的交流中,语言只占到我们所传达信息的十分之一。这么说的话,肢体语言表达了超过一半以上的信息。善用肢体语言,你就能够提升自己每天和别人的交往质量,从而提高你的生活质量,而且这并不难做到。但你一定要非常小心,因为肢体语言可能因文化习俗的不同而有差异。比如点头并不完全意味着赞同,在中国,一个外国人可能就会遇到这样的情况。例如,在小组讨论会议上,一个外国人展示自己的项目成果或方案意见,他会看到与会的中国同事频频点头。此时作为讲者,他可能会认为大家对自己的意见和观点非常赞同,然而会后,当他收到一堆批评意见和不同看法时,大概就会一头雾水了,因为在中国或有些文化区域中,一直盯着对方的眼睛和对方的身体看是不礼貌的行为,所以一定程度上,点头成为了表达“我正在倾听,请您继续讲下去”的意思,但并不等于赞同。另外有时你会看到有些中国人表达谢意会双手合十,这并不完全意味着他们信仰佛教,而更多的是一种感谢的表达。外国朋友初次来到中国,要留心肢体语言的不同含义和细微差别,在此方面你可以多多向自己的中国同事进行请教,他们一定会很热心地乐意帮助你,解释其中的不同。

BT 201801 Last 04Over the last decade or so, global interest in intercultural communication has grown enormously. Communication across cultural boundaries has been studied in depth by many gurus and really makes compelling reading. The cultural anthropologist, Edward T. Hall, is well known for studying how people behave and react in different types of culturally-defined personal space. Different cultures and subcultures have their own rules and norms of behaviour, but most of us are totally oblivious to this. Whilst the visible elements of culture e.g. clothing, food, religious symbols etc are obvious, subtle differences are invisible without solid cultural intelligence. We are each aware of how we think and behave, and we assume that most other individuals on the planet do things in more or less the same way.

When we are having a conversation with others, we notice the obvious differences between introverted and extroverted personalities, and we can’t help but pay attention to people who use a lot of facial and hand gestures when they communicate. But what about when the same gesture can mean something totally different, depending on where in the world a person comes from?

In many cultures, we can generally assume that when the listener nods his head, we can interpret the action as signifying agreement with what the speaker is saying. In China, as well as a few other countries, this is not exactly the case. In China nodding of head simply means that the listener is listening to what is being said. Having too much eye contact, or staring, is not the done thing. It is, in fact, considered disrespectful and so they nod their heads to show that they are listening. Just imagine what misunderstandings this can lead to!

BT 201801 Last 02

Chinese nodding of head while they are listening

When foreign expats arrive to work for global corporations in Chinese cities, and they find that most of their subordinates, colleagues and support staff are Chinese, the potential for such cultural misinterpretations is huge. A foreign manager may discuss the details of a new project with his team, and seeing all the heads nodding, assumes they all agree that this is a good way to proceed. The following day, when he has informal chats with these individuals, the very same project is met with a range of negative comments. This results in the manager wondering if he was dreaming about the previous day’s meeting. How can everyone’s reaction appear to have taken a 180 degree turn? How should he handle this situation?

BT 201801 Last 03

Covering open mouth while langhing makes girls demure and elegant

Similarly, a new expat family arriving in China may give their ayi a few tasks to take care of while they are out for a couple of hours. Her nodding head sends them happily on their way, but on their return, the chores have not been taken care of. Ayi was listening, but had not understood what was being requested, and did not dare to ask for further explanation.

Non-verbal communication is so fascinating. One aspect that has particularly caught my attention is how most Chinese females have learned as young girls that whenever they laugh, they should cover their mouths. Rarely do you see a female laugh out loud without using her hand as a cover, whereas males would not do the same, however much fun they were having in their group. Girls are taught that covering their open mouths makes them demure and elegant.

Before starting an adventure in a new country, I would certainly advise anyone to take part in an intercultural training program or at least do some in-depth research into the culture of the new host country. Often it is not the obvious cultural differences that cause the culture shock, but rather the non-verbal aspects of communication of which the locals themselves are not even aware.

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