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Cultural Clues, Do’s and Taboos: A Touch of Grace

Posted on January 24, 2015 by Leave a comment

To touch or not to touch! How about a touch of grace?

Touch of Grace-Queen-Mich ObamaCultural etiquette, politeness, and good manners are passed down through societies from generation to generation. Etiquette refers to the cultural guidelines for what is appropriate or inappropriate and polite or impolite. It gives a culture structure, integrity, grace, and finesse—all of which are uniquely adapted from one culture to another. Fortunately, simple business and social etiquette are often based on basic common sense. Although etiquette styles and fads may come and go, the fundamentals of global etiquette remain essentially the same.

Often I’m asked about cultural ‘faux pas’, especially as they relate to gestures and touching someone in a way that breaks cultural protocol. This unintentional breach of protocol happens frequently, and will continue to happen, however the real etiquette come into play when the breach is handled with such grace and dignity that the breach dissolves unnoticed! Two examples of this come to mind.

Recently when Prince William and Kate, the Duchess of Cambridge, were presented with a Cleveland Cavaliers T-shirt for Prince George by LaBron James, LaBron put his arm around Kate’s shoulder for the photo, unaware that touching the royal family has been known to break the accepted protocol. Neither Prince William nor Kate showed any sign of being uncomfortable with LaBron’s gesture, showing instead dignity and a touch a grace.

Another similar situation happened in March 2012 when President Obama and the First Lady meet Queen Elizabeth in England. In this case, the Queen first extended her arm to touch Michelle Obama’s back, at which point Mrs. Obama responded in like creating an embrace between the two. The British media was abuzz with this show of affection by the Queen who had not publically displayed this sort of affection in 57 years! From the perspective of “rapport”, perhaps the Queen was welcoming Mrs. Obama in the manner more typically comfortable for the U.S. than England. Traditionally, the protocol would be to follow the customs of etiquette for the country you are in, however Queen Elizabeth and the First lady showed that doing things differently can be just fine!

A touch of grace happens when we let go of traditional cultural expectations and connect on the level of the culture we have in common – the ‘Human Culture’. As we begin 2015, perhaps we can focus more on what we have in common rather than on our differences. The following 7 tips will help us do just that!

  • Be respectful: Respect is a universal language!
  • Show you care: Learn what’s important to the cultures you visit or work with
  • Strike a balance: Find the comfortable middle ground between cultures. No one expects you to be just like them!
  • Know your geography: There is nothing more embarrassing than not knowing the location of a country and its neighbors!
  • Mind your manners: Learn what is considered polite and impolite for the countries you visit
  • Learn how to greet: Greetings are as diverse as the cultures themselves. There are handshakes, kisses, hugs, and bows, and they come in all different sizes!
  • Show a touch of grace: Differences are the spice of life! When it comes to cultural etiquette, no one expects perfection. Enjoy yourself, and it’s highly likely your counterparts will do the same!

To learn more about the Dos and Taboos for different cultures, and the communication styles of Asia Pacific, Europe, Latin America, and the Middle East – order Gayle Cotton’s bestselling book SAY Anything to Anyone, Anywhere! 5 Keys to Successful Cross-Cultural Communication’ available on Amazon as a Book, eBook, or Audio Book

Create Rapport and Organize Strategies for Success

The CROSS of Cross-Cultural

Check out the ARTICLE ARCHIVE ‘Cultural Clues Do’s and Taboos’ for what you may have missed!

Emmy Award Winner, Gayle Cotton, is the author of this blog and of the bestselling cross-cultural communication book, SAY Anything to Anyone, Anywhere! 5 Keys to Successful Cross-Cultural Communication’, available on Amazon as a Book, eBook, or Audio Book. She is President of Circles Of Excellence and a distinguished Professional Keynote Speaker. Contact Gayle if you need professional speakers for events, speakers on cultural diversity, conference speakers for events, or professional keynote speakers that specialize in cross-cultural communication training and cross-cultural training programs. She is a leader in the industry of professional public speakers and professional motivational speakers. She is among the best of female keynote speakers, women motivational speakers, and international keynote speakers. Gayle is a cross-cultural speaker that is an expert on social business etiquette, and she is sure to please any audience with her charm, wit, and humor!


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Cross-cultural article: Cultural Clues, Do’s and Taboos for RUSSIA

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‘SAY Anything to Anyone, Anywhere!’ is a ‘Featured Sales Guide’ on Amazon!

Posted on November 25, 2013 by Leave a comment

ATTENTION SALESPEOPLE & NEGOTIATORS! My book ‘SAY Anything to Anyone, Anywhere!’ is a ‘Featured Sales Guide’ on Amazon. Book Cover-WSJ-9781118620168_cotton

If you sell or negotiate internationally, I promise this book will greatly assist you.

It’s a perfect holiday read for a friend, co-worker, or yourself!

You can buy it now on Amazon at the following link: ‘Featured Sales Guide: SAY Anything to Anyone, Anywhere!’

“This is a perfect cross-cultural communication tool for anyone who does business globally. Gayle uses interesting and amusing examples to illustrate the hows and whys of effectively sharing messages with someone from another culture. Her naturally friendly writing style addresses delicate issues in a graceful way. Read this book and you’ll be ready to Say Anything to Anyone, Anywhere!”

– Ken Blanchard, coauthor of The One Minute Manager® and Great Leaders Grow

“This is an excellent guide to being more effective and comfortable with different people from different cultures – essential for anyone who travels to other countries.”

– Brian Tracy, Author – The 10 Disciplines of Exceptional Leadership

Read More Endorsements!

Look Inside ‘Say Anything’

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Cultural Clues, Do’s & Taboos: Communication Guidelines for ITALY

Posted on November 11, 2013 by Leave a comment

The Latest! Cultural Clues, Do’s & Taboos – A Series of Cultural Tips for Countries from A to Z: ITALY SAMSUNG

In the Italian business culture, punctuality is not as much of a priority as in some places. However, it’s best to arrive on time and be prepared to wait.

In many cities there is a long lunch break from 1:30 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. Business may be discussed during lunch.

Be aware of summer vacations in August, as most companies are closed.

You will usually be introduced to older people and women first. When introducing yourself, it’s best to follow this protocol.

Frequent, warm and enthusiastic handshakes are common for both business and social occasions. Italians will also greet people they know well with an embrace.

It’s not unusual to see Italians walking arm in arm or even holding hands in public (men with women, men with men, and women with women).

Italians can be very demonstrative and like to gesture with their arms and hands while talking. There are rare moments of silence and interruptions are common.

Italians have many physical gestures that have very specific meanings. Because of this, avoid hand gestures where fingers are pointed or singled out in a descriptive way so you don’t offend anyone.

In the Italian culture, people are traditionally expected to behave with a sense of decorum and formality. This concept is known as ‘bella figura’ (beautiful figure).

In business, avoid chewing gum, leaning on things, or slouching. Good posture and direct eye contact is important

It’s advisable to wait to be seated at meetings, meals, or gatherings. Take these opportunities to cultivate feelings of respect and trust with your Italian counterparts.

Any presentation materials should be aesthetically pleasing. It’s essential that things look good as appearance is very important.

Hierarchy in business and “cordata” (chain of command) cannot be underestimated. A belief in status and hierarchy permeates all aspects of Italian society. There is tremendous respect for power, authority and age.

Decision making is rather slow and protracted, so be patient since rushing the process will only be an affront to the Italian business protocol.

Honor and personal pride are critical. Never insult an Italian, their family, their town, their friends, or their church (which is predominantly Roman Catholic).

5 Key Conversation or Gesture Tips

  • Italian architecture and  landscape
  • Anything related to Italian art, opera and films
  • Sports, especially soccer
  • The warm Italian hospitality
  • Current events, as long as they are not derogatory to Italy

5 Key Conversation or Gesture Taboos

  • Religion, the Vatican and its policies
  • Politics, taxes, the Mafia and World War II
  • Criticizing the Italian culture, even if your Italian counterparts are doing so
  • Overly personal questions about job and family when you have just met
  • Negative comments about the local soccer team!

Bon Voyage!

Join us in the future for JAPAN! 


Book website: SAY Anything to Anyone Anywhere!

Currently on my blog

Cross-cultural article: Cultural Clues, Do’s & Taboos on ITALY!

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Cross-cultural article: Cultural Clues, Do’s and Taboos on RUSSIA!

Check out the Articles Archive Cultural Clues, Do’s and Taboos’  for countries you may have missed!

Contact EMMY AWARD WINNER, Gayle Cotton for your next meeting or conference to help you or your company become more successful in today’s global business marketplace. Gayle is the author of the bestselling book SAY Anything to Anyone, Anywhere! 5 Keys to Successful Cross-Cultural Communications’ and President of Circles Of Excellence for Corporate Training & Executive Coaching. Her vast experience living and working abroad will entertain and inspire audiences of any size with her fresh, unique and humorous approach to Cross-Cultural Communications and social business etiquette! Gayle travels worldwide from business bases in Texas and Switzerland as a distinguished professional keynote speaker.

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