Monday, July 31, 2017


Just as in your country, communication patterns will vary from place to place. The words Americans use, their pronunciation, gestures and level of politeness, along with how loudly and fast they speak, can be daunting as you engage with people from different parts of America.

As you would imagine, urban centers –with larger, more mobile populations and cutting edge, competitive enterprises—are always the most vibrant, energetic centers of a nation. Still, cities fall along a continuum from:
Group One, greatest in intensity - the most populated, “electric” urban areas on the East and West Coasts (New York City, Los Angeles, Washington, DC, Boston, etc.); to

Group Two, of still strong but more controlled intensity - the most populous, dynamic regional centers throughout the country (Chicago, Dallas, Atlanta Denver, etc.); and

Group Three, milder in tone and style - the American South and the quieter cities in vast rural regions (Charleston, SC; Birmingham, AL; Phoenix, AZ; Oklahoma City, OK; Kansas City, MO; Salt Lake City, UT; to name a few).
In the largest urban centers –particularly New York and throughout the Northeast, but also the largest West Coast cities—people talk the loudest, the fastest and most expressively. They gesture most emphatically. They interrupt most often, excuse themselves least often, and are direct when expressing opinions.

At the opposite end of the spectrum lies the American South, and after that the quieter cities in rural regions. In the American South they exhibit genteel politeness and picturesque regional expressions; while in the other regions in this category they speak with few words, wait their turn to talk, are considerate of others, and generally speak more slowly.

In the middle category, consisting of major regional centers and the cities of Canada—communication lies somewhere between the two extremes. People are friendly, open and talkative, and use small talk generously. They smile more, use accommodating gestures (head tilts, open hands, easy eye contact), but they are not as solicitous as in the super-genteel areas of the American South.

With greater mobility and global exposure, regional patterns are fading. Still, an awareness of these longstanding patterns offers a chance to observe America’s homegrown diversity.

Monday, July 24, 2017

WHAT SHOULD WOMEN (and others) DO?

Despite changing times, women still form the largest single group of professionals who may display negative overtones to their overt message. But not just women! Anyone who –because of culture, personality or gender—tends to be shy, deferential, reluctant to speak up, or is intimidated by their “superiors,” is at a distinct professional disadvantage.

Culture and social training encourage women to express themselves with a “feminine voice,” to move with grace, to attend to appearance, to defer to others, to smile and show emotion, to avoid overt competition with peers, and to not interrupt. This applies particularly to people (women and men) from East and Southeast Asia, where silence, waiting one’s turn, and “respecting” elders is important, and to Latin American and African women, who have a strong female identity and polite deference to elders and men in general.

Here then are some tips for the workplace. 
  • Speak at the low end of your vocal register. Lower voices convey confidence and authority. Simply dropping your head and chin while talking can achieve this.
  • Breathe deeply and fully for vocal power. Do not limit your breathing to your upper chest. Instead, give your lungs a full “belly breath” –like the bellows of a musical instrument, or a professional swimmer taking in as much air as possible—to help you compete with the stronger lungs of a male voice.
  • Relax your posture to avoid looking stiff and nervous. When seated, expand your arms, away from your body, and lean in.
  • Avoid tilting your head to the side, which suggests accommodation and unconditional understanding, good qualities at times, but in stark contrast to the vertical head posture of men, which lends an exacting, authoritative air of a precision-driven leader.
  • Control excessive smiling, laughing, and hand gestures, to stand out less against your relatively serious, unemotional male counterparts.
  • Dress professionally, especially when delivering a presentation. Avoid flashy or jangling jewelry, hair falling over the eyes or across the face, or clothing that is distractingly revealing.
In every case, help others to focus less on your personal attributes and more on the job at hand and your competence in handling it.

Monday, July 17, 2017


In America, one’s general demeanor should be relaxed, outgoing and confident. So in whatever body position you assume, avoid looking like you are too tightly self-controlled or “imprisoned” in your own space.

Sitting should not be rigid, but at the same time not so relaxed as to seem careless.

Legs and Feet should seem comfortable, legs not placed too precisely parallel to one another, and feet not totally flat on the floor. Legs or ankles may be crossed in casual fashion.

Posture should be good but not soldier-like. When sitting, your back may be either straight or leaning forward from the waist.

Arms should be somewhat expansive, not too close to your body. One arm may be resting on the table or chair arm. Elbows may be on the table, perhaps with hands touching, fingers loosely knit together. Avoid tightly crossing your arms, which can create a subconscious barrier between yourself and others.

Hands should be free to move comfortably (but not excessively) to emphasize your comments or signal that you want to say something. Do not over-control your hands by folding them on the table or in your lap.

Standing: When someone greets you with the offer of a handshake, you should meet him/her at an equal level by standing up.

Personal space: The Japanese maintain perhaps the greatest “personal bubble” around themselves of any culture, while Mediterranean people naturally crowd close to one another. Americans are somewhere in between these extremes. Observe the distance those around you keep, and model what you see.

Touching is dictated by culture and situation. A general rule in professional settings is to avoid touching others, except when shaking hands. Casual physical contact between men and women, or between a superior and a lower-level worker is discouraged, as corporate policies make clear. One exception to this might be between women colleagues who are also good friends in and outside of work.

Monday, July 10, 2017


Today’s Tip addresses ways to use your head and eyes when you want to reveal feeling behind your message and create a favorable impression of yourself. This seems obvious, but if your first culture is not American, it definitely is not!

Professionals in America hope to appear relaxed and outgoing, yet self-assured and securely in control. Something as simple as how you tilt your head and use your eyes can determine a successful demeanor.

Tilting the head –relaxing it on a slight angle from straight up—is a welcoming, accommodating gesture, while holding it stiffly erect suggests rigid certainty with little room for compromise.

Women tend to tilt their heads; therefore, they should straighten the head when they want to project seriousness, attentiveness, or challenge. By contrast, men –and all people from hierarchical cultures like East and Southeast Asia—naturally hold their heads more erect, so they will want to relax the head in a slight tilt, to show they are open to what others say and think.

Making proper eye contact is important, too. From early childhood, Americans are taught to “look others in the eye” in order to show respect and attention. Deflecting your gaze –as, for example, Asian culture encourages people to do as a sign of respect and deference—in America indicates a lack of personal engagement.

When you are listening to lengthy remarks, you should make and hold eye contact with the speaker. You may glance away at times, but always come back to connecting with your eyes.

But when you are in conversation with another person, knowing how long you hold your gaze is key. “Too long” makes you seem to be “staring,” which can suggest surprise, confusion, or even outright defiance. “Too short” makes you seem nervous (“eyes darting”) and unsure of yourself. Generally, you should make eye contact, then after about four seconds divert your gaze for about three seconds, then re-connect.

Next time we’ll talk about adding nods, facial expressions and hand gestures for the “right look.”

Monday, July 3, 2017


Sight is the strongest of the five human senses. And so when you communicate, your audience relies greatly on what they see as you deliver your message.

Words come out of your mouth and convey some meaning, but how you are perceived as you speak can alter that message. And importantly, even when you say nothing, you are communicating something.

Non-verbal cues communicate a lot of key information about you. How you use your eyes, move your head and facial muscles, stand, sit, physically approach a person, utter non-specific sounds (mmm, aahh, uh) within conversation, all present clear signals about your competence, your ease in dealing with information, the cooperative give-and-take you exhibit, your willingness to be helpful and non-threatening, and your comfort level in social situations.

This is a subtle process, instinctively understood by native speakers but a confusing challenge for many people from other cultures. In the American workplace you must learn to decipher non-verbal cues, to recognize them in others, and to use them effectively yourself.

If you are from East or Southeast Asia, for instance, you will tend to control your movements and expressions more than Americans would, leaving the impression you are either less enthusiastic or enigmatic about what you think. If you are from a Latin or Mediterranean culture, you may use gestures in ways that, to Americans, over-state your feelings, again giving your listeners the wrong impression.

Tips appearing in the coming weeks will talk more specifically about this topic. You may discover some elements you may not even be aware of, areas can greatly change the image you project to others.

In the meantime, observe and study native speakers’ movements and gestures. Watch scenes from movies and TV with the sound off. And try to “mirror” –or imitate-- some of what you see to create the same effect, beyond your words.