Cultural Differences in Body Language and Universal Facial Expressions
Recognising cultural differences in interpersonal skills is essential to maintaining effective communication, within both the political and the global business worlds.
The late Edward T. Hall, a renowned social anthropologist, believed that more than 65% of social messages are shared through non-verbal communications, such as body language and facial expressions.
Cultural differences in body language
Master these five basic, non-verbal communication tools:
- Head nodding – We are familiar with nodding our head to indicate ‘yes’ and shaking our head from side to side to indicate ‘no’. And this interpretation is in most cases correct. However, in Bulgaria, Turkey, Yugoslavia and Albania for example, the reverse is true and nodding the head indicates “no”.
- Eye contact – A certain length of eye contact is considered polite in western cultures whilst refusing eye contact or dropping one’s eyes can be seen as impolite, untruthful or sly. In Japan, China and the Australian Indigenous peoples, however, eye contact can be seen as disrespectful or as a direct challenge to superiors or elders.
- Hand gestures – We interpret the OK gesture – a circle made with thumb and index finger and other fingers fanned or outstretched, as meaning “everything is alright” in many western countries. In Brazil, Russia, Germany and the Middle East, however, it is an offensive gesture. Beckoning with a curled finger can get you arrested in the Philippines and is seen as rude in China, Malaysia and Singapore.
- Touching – Shaking hands is practically a universal greeting, although Asian cultures still prefer to bow. In Arab cultures, religious instructions dictate that the left hand is not to be used for touching or eating. Touching the head, as with a child, is seen as a friendly gesture in western cultures but is inappropriate in many Asian cultures.
- Signals – In the Netherlands and Poland, tapping the centre of your forehead with your index finger indicates “craziness”, Italians use the back of their hand rather than their index finger, whilst tapping the forehead in Russia indicates intelligence.
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Cultural differences in Facial expressions
In his groundbreaking research, Paul Ekman, an American Psychologist pioneered the study of facial expressions and created a montage of more than 10,000 different expressions.
He showed facial photographs to people in twenty different western cultures and eleven different isolated and pre-literate African groups. Results indicated that 95% of western respondents and 92% of African respondents were able to identify happy expressions; disgust and contempt showed similar findings.
In general, there are seven different facial expressions that correspond to distinct universal facial emotions:
- Happiness: Raising and lowering of mouth corners, cheeks raised, and muscles around the eyes are tightened.
- Sadness: lowering of mouth corners and raising an inner portion of brows.
- Surprise: Arching of brows, eyelids pulled up and sclera exposed, mouth open.
- Fear: Brows arched and pulled together, eyes wide open, mouth slightly open.
- Disgust: Eyebrows lowered, upper lip raised, nose wrinkled, cheeks raised.
- Anger: Brows lowered, eyes bulging, lips pressed firmly.
- Rest: none of the above. Well-honed interpersonal skills are non-negotiable for anyone in a client- or patient-facing role.
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If you want more information concerning cultural differences, universal facial expressions or improving interpersonal skills within your medical business – email us at email@example.com or fill in the enquiry form – we are happy to help.
About the author
Founder & Fractional CMO
Rod co-founded LiveseySolar and acts as a Fractional CMO for our customers. He’s on a mission to help transform the lives of 10,000 people through vision correction surgery by 2024. To achieve that, he inspires his customers to make confident decisions that will help 50,000 people take the first step towards vision correction.
Meet our Founders
Founder & Fractional CMO
Rod co-founded LiveseySolar and acts as a Fractional CMO for our customers. He’s on a mission to help transform the lives of 10,000 people with vision correction surgery by 2024. To achieve that, he inspires his customers to make confident decisions that will help 50,000 people take the first step towards vision correction.
LiveseySolar completely transformed the way we were approaching this… We’ve gone from having just the dream of having a practice to having a practice up and running with people making inquiries and booking for procedures… It’s extremely pleasing. We feel lucky we connected with LiveseySolar.
— Dr Matthew Russell, MBChB, FRANZCO, specialist ophthalmic surgeon and founder of VSON and OKKO
Founder & CEO
Laura Livesey is the co-founder & CEO of LiveseySolar. She has developed powerful refractive surgery marketing systems that increase patient volumes and profits for doctors, clinics, and hospitals, since 1997.
Rod and Laura know as much about marketing surgery to patients as I know about performing it. They are an expert in the field of laser eye surgery marketing. They know this industry inside out. I believe that they could help many companies in a variety of areas including marketing materials, sales training and marketing support for doctors.
— Prof. Dan Reinstein, MD MA FRSC DABO, founder of the London Vision Clinic, UK