If you live in the world today, you’ve inevitably seen how interactions and expectations can differ depending on the culture and gender with whom you’re working. Leaving aside the issues that may come up with language, there are many other unspoken factors that come into play when trying to communicate across cultures and genders. Knowing a bit more about these factors can help you succeed in your everyday business communication.
Have you ever considered how close you’re standing or sitting to someone? A 2009 survey found that women generally stand closer to other women when speaking, while men tend to stand further apart. Both men and women report feeling more comfortable standing or sitting next to another woman.
Depending on one’s culture, feelings of discomfort could be diminished or magnified. Generally speaking, Hispanics, Europeans and Caucasians don’t feel as if their space is being invaded by a woman, while Middle Easterners are at the opposite end of the spectrum. If the interaction involves touch, the feelings could be different. Whereas a European or American woman might feel the most comfortable with you standing nearer to her, she is the most likely to notice being casually touched, especially by a man. This occurs, in part, because a woman’s touch as seen as a friendly gesture while a man’s touch is viewed as an expression of power or sexual interest. In contrast, in Hispanic, Middle Eastern, or other “high-contact” cultures, you will find that members of the same gender readily and frequently use casual touch as a form of non-verbal communication.
How is eye contact viewed in your culture? In many societies, prolonged or steady eye-contact from a woman to a man is viewed incorrectly as romantic interest. Western cultures tend to place an importance on one’s ability to maintain eye contact, as it is viewed as being engaged in the interaction and confident. Making eye contact during a job interview can help show that the interviewee is self-assured and driven, someone to be trusted. Conversely, in Eastern cultures, maintaining eye contact is considered to be very disrespectful and too personal. In an interaction between a subordinate and a manager, the subordinate would avoid eye contact as a form of respect and courtesy.
-Wendy Carson, Language Training Coordinator