The whole issue of culture in the workplace, society and the world is fascinating to me. For example, I never thought, the simple act of looking someone in the eyes could be perceived as anything other than respectful. But I found out the hard way, this is not the case in other parts of the world.
I learned firsthand a few years ago when I stopped at a new Asian convenience store in the area. After looking around the store, I noticed many items did not have prices. So I walked up to the store clerk who was standing behind the counter and asked him how much something was. He promptly looked down and mumbled something. I asked again and he seemed to look purposely away and replied again. I then tried to make eye contact with him by moving within his line of sight. It felt like a game of cat and mouse, as I tried to make eye contact with him. I thought he was being disrespectful by trying to ignore me and I’m guessing he thought I was being rude by trying to look at him directly in the eyes. He never did look at me and I never did buy anything. It’s funny how something, as seemingly minor, as eye contact can miscommunicate so much.
In Schermerhorn’s Organizational Behavior, he writes about culture and cultural diversity. I like the point he makes about culture being the “software of the mind”, that everyone’s brain is wired with the same hardware, but the “software of culture” takes many different forms. Cultural eye contact is a good example of this.
Schermerhorn, Jr., J. R., Hunt, J. G., & Osborn, R. N. Organizational behavior. (7 ed., pp. 50-52). New York: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.