Body Language Analysis - Decoding Humans
Countries, Cultures and Their Perceptions
The easiest way to understand how we perceive and misperceive body language is to consider how people perceive other people from other nations in general.
The United States, for example, has multiple "reputations" around the globe.
Europeans tell me that the U.S. is violent, arrogant and offers lots of "fake" smiles.
It's certainly true that by contrast Americans are polite and it's true that violence in the U.S. is greater than a lot of countries. The reality is that the U.S. is much less violent than it was 20 years ago.
And many parts of the U.S. are less violent than almost anywhere in Europe!
Meanwhile there are a few states in the nation that are more violent than say Mexico.
The point is that "Americans" is a big word that doesn't mean a great deal. "Average" for a nation of 300,000,000 people...doesn't tell us much about people on an individual level and you'd never know that Minnesota (where I live) is safer on the streets than most places in Europe.
Perception is filed with observer bias.
In the body language analysis department that means we must unplug our preconceived notions and consider contexts and specific situations where behaviors are occurring if we are to read body language correctly.
I get a bit of fun poked at me by my European and English friends who indicate I tend to be very casual and laid back in my body language and speech.
For me, as a speaker, entertainer or presenter for a group, it is somewhat expected. But for doing business or interacting on other levels, realize the louder the American, the bigger the jerk he is perceived to be by his European counterpart.
On average, Europeans outside of England (and the English will generally differentiate themselves from Europe as well) are a very healthy-looking people. They are thin. They walk a great deal. They are not pampered, rude or spoiled. Northern Europeans in particular are aware of rude American behaviors. Americans simply don't fit on their elevators and tend to speak when it's least desirable.
The individual in Europe analyzing the American's body language must shift their thinking however. The rude American is probably not as rude as they are being perceived to be. In fact, they might be behaving in a friendly, appreciative fashion...
And this is the problem people experience in reading body language. They misperceive because they have beliefs and preconceived notions about others.
Before leaving the Individualistic/Collectivist mindset and moving on to Power, consider how negotiation is impacted by these two broad ways of living.
When you have confrontation in a collectivist society, it might be best solved by a third party negotiator. Face saving (power retention) is very, very important in Asia. A third party can go a long way toward making everything work out when the one-on-one American style...works best in the United States.
Power in the U.S.
In the United States, it's almost traditional that the higher up the corporate ladder you go, the further away from foot traffic of the hive is their office.
In the U.S., power is generally represented by BIG.
You walk into a spacious office where there is a significant distance from the door to oversized desk and when you arrive at the desk, you'll see that most of the space on the desk is territorially marked. If you can draw a line through all of the items on the perimeter of the desk you'd see there is very little space on the "visitor" side of the desk, even though the executive can't reach without straining to those items, creating the force field around the desk.
Power in the East
In Asia, when the person in power of a group issues a direction, an order, a suggestion....it gets done by the listener. It doesn't get questioned. (Sort of like growing up in my house when I was a kid...)
The United States falls in the middle of the Power Distance Ratio.
People think of power as money, authority or influence. All three are accurate. Sometimes they all go together, sometimes they don't. A teacher in Japan has a great deal of power, but not so much money.
The United States is a pretty sassy country. You can wield your opinion in front of the power elite within a group. That won't fly in Asia.
Meanwhile countries like New Zealand, Australia, the Scandinavian nations, Denmark and even the UK, all have a much "closer" Power/Distance Ratio. In these locales, challenging power/authority (outside of The Crown) is not frowned upon or something that will get you the "no" response.
Let's get to bodies:
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