How does culture influence knowledge

Negotiate internationally How the negotiating partner influences the negotiation

Nonverbal and paraverbal signals can cause misunderstandings if different systems of cultural orientation assign them different meanings. In intercultural speech situations it is therefore important to always remind yourself that the intended expression often does not match the impression created by the viewer.

Agree and disagree

In Germany, approval is accompanied by a nod of the head, refusal by shaking the head. In India, consent is signaled by wiggling the head (a rocking motion occurs). This is all too easily interpreted by negotiating partners from other cultures as a shake of the head or rejection. Even with a culturally trained speaker who knows this Indian peculiarity, it can cause irritation - because one is used to different gestures of approval.

Eye contact with the audience and tone of voice

In the German culture, it is considered convincing when a speaker makes and maintains eye contact with the audience and when he lets his gestures run free. A counterpart who cannot look you in the eye is judged negatively in western cultures and perceived as insincere. A low voice is beneficial, and speaking should be loud and modulated during the argumentation phase. In other cultures (for example in Japan) the appropriateness of eye contact depends on the hierarchical relationship between the speaker and the listener. Intense eye contact can be perceived as presumptuous, speaking loudly as aggressive.


Certain gestures replace language, for example the extended thumb as a sign of “everything is fine” or the extended middle finger as an insult. Some of them are understood across cultures and are an efficient way of expressing and recognizing moods. However, a gesture can have a completely different meaning in a different cultural area: A circle made up of thumb and forefinger means “excellent” or “exquisite” in Germany; the same gesture is a serious insult in Italy.


The field of tactile signals also causes difficulties in an intercultural environment. The firm handshake in greeting has a gripping effect in the western context and signals reliability. Intercultural trainers who prepare representatives from other cultures, in which a polite bow or other greeting gesture is more common, for working with Germans, therefore sometimes practice a firm handshake with their participants. In some cultures (for example in some African, Islamic and Indian) it is uncommon to greet women with handshakes or even to touch women. However, a handshake to greet them is hardly a problem for educated negotiators these days.

Distance to the counterpart and body contact

On the other hand, some cultures, for example the Mediterranean or the South American, are more affectionate to touch, at least in the relationships between the men. The distance to the other person and the extent of socially accepted body contact are highly culture-dependent. Every cultural area knows the usual distances between people (who are not closely familiar with one another). This is, for example, much lower in Brazil than in Germany. If the usual distance is not reached in this country, the person feels uncomfortable and tries to restore the comfortable distance, practically moving away from the other person. Such differences can lead to misinterpretations and thus cause misunderstandings and unpleasant situations.

Volume, speaking speed, pitch

A high volume, fast speaking speed or a high voice can be interpreted as excitement and aggressiveness, but also as a sign of lively conversation, not only between different cultures, but also in the context of sub- and regional cultures.