5 common body language mistakes on international business trips

5 Common Body Language Mistakes on International Business Trips

When your boss tells you that you’re being sent on an international business trip, your mind probably fills with excitement and anticipation for what lies ahead. You carefully prepare your suitcase, your professional attire, and your business notes. You may even learn how to say hello€ and €œthank you€ in the native language of where you’re going to be sure to give a good first impression. But what about your body language? Do you research the culture of your destination to find out what body language gestures you should and shouldn’t use?

Body language makes up a huge part of our communication. It plays an important part in getting your message across to another person. When you use the right body language gestures you can connect much easier with your international business partner. But when you use the wrong body language gestures, you can easily offend or send a confusing message.

I’ve listed below €œ5 Body Language Mistakes on International Business Trips. The mistakes that I’ve listed are common to people from Western business cultures. I want to share them with you so you’re aware of simple body language gestures that could cost you valuable business relationships

1. Your Handshake Is Too Strong

In most Western countries, we’re taught that a firm handshake with direct eye contact is how you project confidence and establish trust. This is true, and it works in places such as the US, UK, and Australia. But be careful using this type of handshake in Asia or Europe as you may be seen as overpowering and dominating. Solution: Soften your handshake a little when you meet somebody for the first time.

2. Your Eye Contact Is Too Direct

The strong handshake that I talked about above is often combined with direct eye contact in Western business culture. This helps to enhance the trust factor. But if you use this direct eye contact in Asia, you wouldn’t be seen as open and trustworthy, you could be seen as aggressive and offensive. Solution: Relax your eye contact just a little during introductions.

3. You Point With Your Index Finger

Pointing with your index finger is often a natural gesture in the US, and we often use it in Australia too. But in other cultures, pointing to an object or a person with your index finger can be quite offensive. It’s seen as direct and blunt. Solution: Use an open palm with all of your fingers grouped together and gesture toward the object or person.

4. You Show the Bottom of Your Foot

In many cultures, the bottom of your foot is regarded as the lowest part of your body, and it’s rude to show anybody the bottom of your foot. This can cause problems if you like to sit with your ankle resting on your knee. Solution: Keep your feet flat on the floor during business meetings and tuck your feet underneath you if sitting on the floor.

5. You Stand Outside of The Other Person’s Personal Space

Depending on the culture in which you grew up, you may need a large amount of space around you to feel comfortable when talking to others, or a small amount. In the US, UK, and Canada, it’s usually an arm’s length. In Asia or Latin America, it’s often much smaller. If you travel to those regions on business and you stand an arm’s length away from the other person, you’ll probably be standing too far away. They may feel they can’t connect with you. Solution: Close the gap and stand a little closer to that person so they feel close enough to connect with you.

Keep in mind these common mistakes the next time you travel internationally for business. Research the culture you will be visiting, or sign-up for international business etiquette tips so you can learn the dos and don’ts, and know how to make a better first impression.

Have you encountered any embarrassing or confusing body language gestures on your international travels?

Body language for international business

About Kara

Kara Ronin is the founder of Executive Impressions. She is an executive coach who specialises in leadership presence, social skills and business etiquette. She is also the creator of Bestselling Udemy course, Business Etiquette 101. Kara’s advice and unique perspectives have been featured in Time Inc., Business Insider, Ignites Europe (a Financial Times Service), The Muse, The Local France, The West Australian, and more. Kara works regularly with lawyers, investment bankers, and finance professionals to help them build presence, authority and influence in business. Get Kara's insights delivered straight to your inbox