Hand Gestures Can Take A Video Call Down

June 12, 2012, by Lisa Avvocato in Telepresence, Tips & Tricks

Video conferencing technology crosses geographical boundaries and connects participants all over the world with the click of a button. Many collaboration sessions with peers are informal gatherings where different ideas and concepts are discussed. However, what is perceived as a normal hand gesture in one country may be completely offensive in another. Colleagues should be mindful of their hand gestures during international meetings and specifically avoid the gestures below that have multiple meanings.

A-Okay
In the US and UK this gestures is often used to signify things are “a-okay” or absolutely fine but in Japan it means money or coins. This can become quite confusing to your Japanese counterparts when they ask you a question and you respond with coins. In a few European countries, such as France, this gesture means ‘zero’ and by responding to an idea with it you are essentially saying their idea is useless which can be quite insulting. Far worse, in Brazil and Germany the term is downright vulgar. 

Thumbs Up
In Western cultures this is a sign of approval or a job well done or that you are good to go; however, in Latin America and the Middle East it is one of the biggest insults you can give. So when your Latin American colleague asks if you can hear him now, it’s best to respond verbally instead of simply giving the thumbs up sign. 

Stop
Meetings sometimes get out of control with multiple people talking at the same time. To get everyone’s attention the meeting leader may hold up his hand to signify stop; however, he will really be telling his Greek counterparts to go see the devil.   

V-Sign
Many people use this sign to refer to the number two but in the UK or Australia it is the equivalent of telling someone where to go. Be wary of using hand gestures to signify numbers to avoid offending colleagues and keep meetings on track. 

There are a lot of different cultures in the world and each has their own way of expressing feelings through body language. Gestures that may seem harmless can be deeply offensive to another culture so before meeting with international clients or colleagues it may behoove you to brush up on their culture to avoid any faux pas.

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