Kevin Hogan on Body Language



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Body Language Analysis - Decoding the Misunderstood Signals

Kevin Hogan

Page 2

Men Touching Men

The United States is a most complex place to live as far as culture and body language.

Body Language Touch Thinking about Boot Camp has me thinking about playing cards at the end of the day.

If I'm playing cards and winning, guys in their 40's often initiate high fives when we pull winning hands. Guys in their 20's and 30's are more inclined to a fist bump. Old guys touch only their money.

At a card table, I prefer no one to be touching me...except maybe the girl who brings drinks.

At Influence: Boot Camp, I can touch and be touched. The same is true for family and friends. But in random moments...I prefer distance.

It turns out that this microcosm tends to be fairly representative of the nation as a whole.

The Touchy South

The South, within the context of a specific race, tends to be a high contact place to hang out, much like our national neighbor to the further south...Mexico.

The North East? Not so much.

The Midwest is more touchy and closer contact than the North East, but nothing by comparison to the South.

The black cultures, both African and African American (in the U.S.) tend to be touchers and communicate from very close distances.

People are xenophobic by nature.

Therefore, "fitting in," is pretty important when doing business or connecting with people around the world.

Decoding body language requires understanding what is normal. People from one country will think that wherever they land in another location is normal for the entire nation. That typically isn't the case.

Within the UK is ENGLAND which, for example, is in every way DIFFERENT from SCOTLAND.

Citizens of England and Scotland see themselves in contrast to each other as night and day. You wouldn't ever suggest the Scots are similar to those born and raised in London...even that they were born on the same planet...

A Mystery: It's fascinating that in MANY countries there is a "North/South" split within the specific nation. This is certainly true for understanding body language in the U.S.

Here's a strange fact: In many, many countries...North = less contact/closeness, South = more contact/closeness!

The first point of decoding the misunderstood dialects of body language is that there are dramatic differences in the meaning of how close someone is to you, what they gestured and how they use the stuff around them when compared to other groups in the same country!

Where else is this strange North/South divide when it comes to body language?

It tends to be true for nations as diverse as Germany, France, Italy, Spain, Croatia, Serbia and Switzerland...among others.

I've read lots of hypotheses as to why this is...none impress me as particularly assuring. It's just the way it is.

Body Language And Identity

ONE FACTOR that does seem pretty stable in determining whether you ought to be more inclined to keep your distance and avoid touch vs. hugging a leader/authority figure of any kind, in any context, is cultural identity.

Collectivist Cultures vs. Individualist Cultures

Collectivist cultures, where the group (not the individual) is predominant, particularly people from Japan and China, there tends to be very little touching at all outside of the home. It's rather ironic considering the massively crowded cities both of these nations boast.

Collectivists think in terms of "we" and you'd be wise to mirror that in communication AND body language, especially gestures. To not be part of a group is not something that will lead to good relations in Asia.

One of the most fascinating pieces of recent historical footage you can watch is The Beatles at Budokon. 1965. This slice of music history gives us insight into culture as well.

The stadium was eerily silent...offering the best sound of any Beatles live concert...and rather my Western eye and ear, being able to hear every note and lyric. Things have changed since the 60's to be sure. But by contrast to South America or Latin America, the places are worlds are apart.

Self-control, self-monitoring, self-discipline are all admired and virtually required characteristics in collectivist nations. Perhaps this is why, on average, Asians tend to do so well at everything in general and excel in life when immigrating to America.

Meanwhile, in individualistic cultures, like the U.S. the "I" is dominant. Here you tend to see more touching, noisier celebrations, less self-control.

Now you can begin to make some predictions about reading people and suggested behavioral strategy for yourself when you travel.

Fascinating cultural differences?

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Kevin Hogan
Network 3000 Publishing
16526 W. 78th St. #138
Eden Prairie, MN 55346
(612) 616-0732

Article photo on this page appears under license with istockphoto/Juanmonino.

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