Nonverbal expressions, like words (see Facilitate Meaning, Not Words), connote multiple messages.
After you finish this article, you will be strongly tempted to embrace the MG RUSH recommendation—ie; keep your elbows tucked in, your hands below your heart, and keep them open, facing up. Some would call this approach, keeping your hands to yourself.
For example, extending the index and little fingers upward, with a fist shaped as a “V” (with the middle and ring fingers tucked down into the palm, along with the thumb) can signify victory or good luck in the Americas while it is considered a vulgar insult in Italy.
A single thumb up, commonly used to express “all right” in the United States, counts as the number one in Germany, the number five in Japan, and is seen as a vulgar insult in Afghanistan, among other places (akin to the middle finger prone upward in the United States).
Scuba divers universally acknowledge the clasping of the thumb and index finger into a circle (or, “AOK”) as the buddy signal that all is fine. The circle will be perceived as vulgar insult in Russia and Italy. However, it signifies to “pay me” in Japan and displays a sense of “worthless” in France.
Yes or No?
Even a simple nod of the head from side to side typically signifies “no” or “I’m not in agreement” in the United State. However, it may signify “yes” or “no problem” in India and elsewhere. The slight vertical nod of the head up and down signifies “I’m OK with it” in the United States. But it may signify “no” or “I don’t see it” in Greece and elsewhere.
While nonverbal cues are intended to simplify understanding, it is rather apparent that they can obfuscate consensus in a multi-cultural setting. As with everything, context is critical to understanding, and the role of the facilitator is to police context on behalf of the participants—so be careful, and keep your hands to yourself.
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