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How to Be Polite in 20 Different Countries

How to Be Polite in 20 Different Countries

If you’ve done any traveling at all, you’re likely quite aware that customs and etiquette differ from one culture to another: what may be perfectly innocuous in one place may be hideously offensive in another, and vice-versa. Granted, even if you haven’t traveled at all, you’re probably aware of the fact that certain types of behavior aren’t exactly acceptable in other countries: belching at the table may be a sign of gratitude in some places, but in most areas of North America and Europe, such a display will earn you a fair bit of ire. Whether you plan on traveling to any of the places listed below or just doing business with a foreign client, it’s important to educate yourself on the standards of politesse and etiquette beforehand—the last thing you want to do is offend someone with any ignorant, boorish behavior. Here’s how to be polite in 20 different countries:

Japan

When dealing with Japanese clients, be sure to dress fairly conservatively, and make sure that you bow lower than they do upon meeting them. Accept gifts with both hands (and open them later, not in front of the giver), and never blow your nose at the dining table. Avoid asking and answering direct questions: it’s better to imply rather than ask, and to answer with vagueness during conversations.

Sweden

Keep personal distance and don’t touch people when you talk to them. Ensure proper table manners, never discuss religion or politics, and try to maintain a level of quiet dignity. Silences during conversations are not considered uncomfortable, and it’s better to be a bit quiet, rather than overly verbose. When dining out, don’t drink before the host offers a toast, and don’t get drunk.

Mexico

When meeting others, women should initiate handshakes with men, but all people should avoid making too much eye contact; that can be seen as aggressive and belligerent behavior. If sharing a meal with others, keep your elbows off the table and try to avoid burping at all costs. Keep your hands off your hips, and make sure you never make the “okay” sign with your hand: it’s vulgar.

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Kenya

When greeting someone older or of a higher status than yourself, grip their right wrist with your left hand while shaking it; it’s a sign of respect and deference. Do ask questions about their health, family, business etc. before getting to major topics, as skipping these niceties is seen as impolite. If sharing meals, do not begin eating until the eldest male has been served and starts to eat.

Jordan

Keep your voice low and quiet when conversing with others, as that is seen as being mature and respectful. Be aware that people will speak to you at a closer distance than you may be used to, and you may be touched on the arm or shoulder during conversation. Polite jokes are acceptable, as is inquiring about family members. Never show the bottoms of your shoes.

Germany

Much like Scandinavian people, Germans tend to be reserved and polite. Ensure that handshakes are firm, and always address people with Mr. or Mrs. followed by their surname (“Herr” or “Frau” if you’re confident that you’ll pronounce them well). Decent table manners are of great importance, and be sure to say “please” and “thank you” often.

China

Be generous with saying “thank you” when someone does anything from pouring you tea to offering you a gift, and if or when you receive a gift, take it with both hands. If someone makes a comment about your weight/appearance/idiosyncrasy, try not to take it as offensive: it’s merely an observation on their part.

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Barbados

Years of British rule in Barbados established a high degree of politesse, so be sure to greet people as Mr./Mrs./Miss and say “please” and “thank you” often. Formal table manners are a must, as is modest dress anywhere but at the beach. Avoid discussing religion and politics, and stick to neutral-yet-friendly topics of conversation with others.

Pakistan

Be sure to dress modestly (especially if you’re female), and if you go out for a meal, eat with your right hand; the left is considered unclean. Sit on your left hand if you need to, but keep it away from your food. Don’t show anyone the bottom of your shoe, and try not to touch anyone with your feet.

France

Be sure to say “please” and “thank you” often, and always thank people for their time. If you need help at a shop, apologize to the staff for bothering them with a question, and be sure to thank them before you leave. Make sure that you chew with your mouth closed during meals, don’t speak when your mouth is full, and for goodness’ sake, don’t slurp anything!

Korea

Don’t be offended if a Korean woman merely nods instead of offering her hand to shake, and don’t extend yours to her. Never touch a Korean person while talking to them (unless you’re on very friendly terms), and maintain a respectable distance: personal space is rather vital. Try to avoid talking too much during meals, and offer to pay even if you know that the other party is treating you.

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Argentina

This is another country in which people will lean in close when they speak to you, and touch you often during a conversation. Pulling away is considered rude and “cold”, so be prepared to sacrifice your own personal space for the sake of social courtesy. Maintain strong eye contact, and don’t put your hands on your hips.

The Netherlands

Shake hands with everyone, ensuring that you smile and make eye contact while doing so. Make appointments for meetings and social functions well in advance (like, a couple of weeks in advance), and be punctual when you show up. Feel free to bring gifts such as chocolate or flowers when visiting people.

Russia

Turning down an alcoholic drink is considered terribly offensive in Russia, so it’s a good idea to fortify yourself with some greasy food before heading out for a meal with Russian or Ukrainian clients. Don’t smile at strangers or they’ll think you’re deranged, and when paying for items, place your money on the counter rather than trying to hand it directly to the cashier.

Canada

Canadians are (for the most part) polite, respectful, and fairly reserved people. It’s important to remember social niceties such as saying “please” and “thank you” when dealing with them, and if you open doors for people and offer firm handshakes, you’re sure to stay in the good books. When ordering food or drinks, never begin with “I want…,” as it’s considered rude and ignorant to do so.

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Italy

Dress formally and respectably in churches and upscale restaurants, and ensure that your table manners are impeccable. Be punctual, always be generous with social niceties, and under no circumstances should you ever be drunk in public. Say “please” often, and if possible, try to make at least a bit of an effort to learn a few Italian words and phrases.

Nepal

It’s best to dress modestly when traveling around Nepal, and if you end up exchanging gifts with others, never do so with your left hand. When it comes to sharing meals, use utensils so you avoid contaminating anything with implements that may have touched your mouth, and take care to remove your shoes upon entering someone’s home, or a temple.

Israel

Greet people with a warm handshake and ready smile, and invite them to address you by your first name. Don’t be offended if someone shows up 15 to 20 minutes late, or if they take phone calls during your meeting with them. If asked personal questions, answer with generalizations. If you’re male, don’t speak to another man’s wife if she hasn’t been introduced to you.

The U.K.

Like in Canada, people in the United Kingdom tend to be fairly polite and reserved. Possibly more so. Be very courteous in your speech, never address anyone by their given name unless invited to do so (always address them as Mr./Mrs./Miss followed by their surname to begin with), and ensure that you use proper table manners when sharing meals.

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Brazil

Smile often, don’t be afraid to touch others during conversation, and be generous with the “thumbs-up” sign. Avoid the “okay” gesture (it’s offensive), and if you eat a sandwich, use a napkin to hold it rather than your bare hands. Don’t use a toothpick without covering your mouth with your free hand, and if you’re going to wear a tiny string Speedo on the beach, be sure to strut around in it.

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Catherine Winter

Catherine is a wordsmith covering lifestyle tips on Lifehack.

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Published on May 18, 2021

How To Improve Listening Skills For Effective Workplace Communication

How To Improve Listening Skills For Effective Workplace Communication

We have two ears and one mouth for a reason—effective communication is dependent on using them in proportion, and this involves having good listening skills.

The workplace of the 21st century may not look the same as it did before COVID-19 spread throughout the world like wildfire, but that doesn’t mean you can relax your standards at work. If anything, Zoom meetings, conference calls, and the continuous time spent behind a screen have created a higher level of expectations for meeting etiquette and communication. And this goes further than simply muting your microphone during a meeting.

Effective workplace communication has been a topic of discussion for decades, yet, it is rarely addressed or implemented due to a lack of awareness and personal ownership by all parties.

Effective communication isn’t just about speaking clearly or finding the appropriate choice of words. It starts with intentional listening and being present. Here’s how to improve your listening skills for effective workplace communication.

Listen to Understand, Not to Speak

There are stark differences between listening and hearing. Listening involves intention, focused effort, and concentration, whereas hearing simply involves low-level awareness that someone else is speaking. Listening is a voluntary activity that allows one to be present and in the moment while hearing is passive and effortless.[1]

Which one would you prefer your colleagues to implement during your company-wide presentation? It’s a no-brainer.

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Listening can be one of the most powerful tools in your communication arsenal because one must listen to understand the message being told to them. As a result of this deeper understanding, communication can be streamlined because there is a higher level of comprehension that will facilitate practical follow-up questions, conversations, and problem-solving. And just because you heard something doesn’t mean you actually understood it.

We take this for granted daily, but that doesn’t mean we can use that as an excuse.

Your brain is constantly scanning your environment for threats, opportunities, and situations to advance your ability to promote your survival. And yet, while we are long past the days of worrying about being eaten by wildlife, the neurocircuitry responsible for these mechanisms is still hard-wired into our psychology and neural processing.

A classic example of this is the formation of memories. Case in point: where were you on June 3rd, 2014? For most of you reading this article, your mind will go completely blank, which isn’t necessarily bad.

The brain is far too efficient to retain every detail about every event that happens in your life, mainly because many events that occur aren’t always that important. The brain doesn’t—and shouldn’t—care what you ate for lunch three weeks ago or what color shirt you wore golfing last month. But for those of you who remember where you were on June 3rd, 2014, this date probably holds some sort of significance to you. Maybe it was a birthday or an anniversary. Perhaps it was the day your child was born. It could have even been a day where you lost someone special in your life.

Regardless of the circumstance, the brain is highly stimulated through emotion and engagement, which is why memories are usually stored in these situations. When the brain’s emotional centers become activated, the brain is far more likely to remember an event.[2] And this is also true when intention and focus are applied to listening to a conversation.

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Utilizing these hard-wired primitive pathways of survival to optimize your communication in the workplace is a no-brainer—literally and figuratively.

Intentional focus and concentrated efforts will pay off in the long run because you will retain more information and have an easier time recalling it down the road, making you look like a superstar in front of your colleagues and co-workers. Time to kiss those note-taking days away!

Effective Communication Isn’t Always Through Words

While we typically associate communication with words and verbal affirmations, communication can come in all shapes and forms. In the Zoom meeting era we live in, it has become far more challenging to utilize and understand these other forms of language. And this is because they are typically easier to see when we are sitting face to face with the person we speak to.[3]

Body language can play a significant role in how our words and communication are interpreted, especially when there is a disconnection involved.[4] When someone tells you one thing, yet their body language screams something completely different, it’s challenging to let that go. Our brain immediately starts to search for more information and inevitably prompts us to follow up with questions that will provide greater clarity to the situation at hand. And in all reality, not saying something might be just as important as actually saying something.

These commonly overlooked non-verbal communication choices can provide a plethora of information about the intentions, emotions, and motivations. We do this unconsciously, and it happens with every confrontation, conversation, and interaction we engage in. The magic lies in the utilization and active interpretation of these signals to improve your listening skills and your communication skills.

Our brains were designed for interpreting our world, which is why we are so good at recognizing subtle nuances and underlying disconnect within our casual encounters. So, when we begin to notice conflicting messages between verbal and non-verbal communication, our brain takes us down a path of troubleshooting.

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Which messages are consistent with this theme over time? Which statements aren’t aligning with what they’re really trying to tell me? How should I interpret their words and body language?

Suppose we want to break things down even further. In that case, one must understand that body language is usually a subconscious event, meaning that we rarely think about our body language. This happens because our brain’s primary focus is to string together words and phrases for verbal communication, which usually requires a higher level of processing. This doesn’t mean that body language will always tell the truth, but it does provide clues to help us weigh information, which can be pretty beneficial in the long run.

Actively interpreting body language can provide you with an edge in your communication skills. It can also be used as a tool to connect with the individual you are speaking to. This process is deeply ingrained into our human fabric and utilizes similar methods babies use while learning new skills from their parents’ traits during the early years of development.

Mirroring a person’s posture or stance can create a subtle bond, facilitating a sense of feeling like one another. This process is triggered via the activation of specific brain regions through the stimulation of specialized neurons called mirror neurons.[5] These particular neurons become activated while watching an individual engage in an activity or task, facilitating learning, queuing, and understanding. They also allow the person watching an action to become more efficient at physically executing the action, creating changes in the brain, and altering the overall structure of the brain to enhance output for that chosen activity.

Listening with intention can make you understand your colleague, and when paired together with mirroring body language, you can make your colleague feel like you two are alike. This simple trick can facilitate a greater bond of understanding and communication within all aspects of the conversation.

Eliminate All Distractions, Once and for All

As Jim Rohn says, “What is easy to do is also easy not to do.” And this is an underlying principle that will carry through in all aspects of communication. Distractions are a surefire way to ensure a lack of understanding or interpretation of a conversation, which in turn, will create inefficiencies and a poor foundation for communication.

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This should come as no surprise, especially in this day in age where people are constantly distracted by social media, text messaging, and endlessly checking their emails. We’re stuck in a cultural norm that has hijacked our love for the addictive dopamine rush and altered our ability to truly focus our efforts on the task at hand. And these distractions aren’t just distractions for the time they’re being used. They use up coveted brainpower and central processes that secondarily delay our ability to get back on track.

Gloria Mark, a researcher at UC Irvine, discovered that it takes an average of 23 minutes and 15 seconds for our brains to reach their peak state of focus after an interruption.[6] Yes, you read that correctly—distractions are costly, error-prone, and yield little to no benefit outside of a bump to the ego when receiving a new like on your social media profile.

Meetings should implement a no-phone policy, video conference calls should be set on their own browser with no other tabs open, and all updates, notifications, and email prompt should be immediately turned off, if possible, to eliminate all distractions during a meeting.

These are just a few examples of how we can optimize our environment to facilitate the highest levels of communication within the workplace.

Actions Speak Louder Than Words

Effective communication in the workplace doesn’t have to be challenging, but it does have to be intentional. Knowledge can only take us so far, but once again, knowing something is very different than putting it into action.

Just like riding a bike, the more often you do it, the easier it becomes. Master communicators are phenomenal listeners, which allows them to be effective communicators in the workplace and in life. If you genuinely want to own your communication, you must implement this information today and learn how to improve your listening skills.

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Choose your words carefully, listen intently, and most of all, be present in the moment—because that’s what master communicators do, and you can do it, too!

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Featured photo credit: Mailchimp via unsplash.com

Reference

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