Gestures to Know For Philippine Business Meetings
December 12, 2017
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The Philippines is home to the world’s third largest English speaking population. Filipino and English are the country’s two official languages, and both are written in Latin script to appeal better to English speakers. For many US small businesses, this makes the Philippines a prime export destination.
Though the spoken language barrier is small, the Philippines is still particular in its customs. Nonverbal communication deepens the meaning behind a conversation and, if used improperly, can be offensive.
Nonverbal communication deepens the meaning behind a conversation and, if used improperly, can be offensive.
These gestures are the key to fully understanding a negotiation.
The possibility for miscommunication takes understanding gestures and body language beyond cultural norms. US small businesses need to be aware of the importance of body language to conduct a successful negotiation in the Philippines.
Like many Asian cultures, respecting elders is at the core of etiquette and communication practices in the Philippines. In a business meeting, the oldest or the highest-ranking person is greeted first. But a simple hello to the person with gray hair isn’t going to cut it.
Philippine business people perform a gesture known as mano or pagamamano to elders and persons of high rank. It’s performed by younger or “lower ranking” people taking the hand of the elder, and gently tapping it to their own head, and saying “mano po,” which means respect. Performing this gesture is a way of accepting a blessing from an elder to begin or close a negotiation.
It’s performed by younger or “lower ranking” people taking the hand of the elder, and gently tapping it to their own head, and saying “mano po,” which means respect
Mano is unofficially called “blessed” by the Philippine people, and is commonly practiced there. Pulling this out, or at least knowing of it, will give you a big advantage with Philippine partners. It shows both respect for the elder present, and for the nation’s culture at large.
To avoid disrespecting your Philippine counterparts with your body language, there are some gestures to avoid, even if they seem fine to you. Many gestures that are used commonly in the US and other parts of the world have very different meanings in the Philippines, and could even be viewed as offensive.
Many gestures that are used commonly in the US and other parts of the world have very different meanings in the Philippines, and could even be viewed as offensive.
Facing your palm up and curling an index finger toward yourself is commonly understood as a “beckoning” gesture. It means something like “come here.” In the Philippines however, this gesture is considered offensive, as this style of beckoning is used to call dogs. Using it when referring to another person is akin to calling them lesser or animalistic.
To beckon someone in the Philippines, extend your arm with your palm facing down. Move your fingers in a scratching motion towards you.
Pointing with your lips is a gesture that unsuspecting US small business owners may find confusing or rude. In Philippine culture, it’s common to see people pursing their lips to point at someone and something. This may be to avoid using their fingers, but it’s also considered less work than lifting your arm.
A less common gesture to avoid in a business meeting is putting your hands on your hips. Though common practice in the US, this is considered confrontational and comes off as a bodily display of anger in the Philippines. To be safe, put your hands in your lap or at the edge of the table.
Reading Between the Lines
Possibly the most important nonverbal communication is the body language that accompanies conversation
Possibly the most important nonverbal communication is the body language that accompanies conversation. The Philippine practice of not saying what you’re feeling makes it hard to communicate with international investors. This is often done to “save face” by avoiding confrontation during a negotiation and not saying no.
Here are a few gestures to keep in mind so that you don’t get lost in your business meetings.
- Open Wide: If Philippine people don’t understand a question, they will open their mouths. Though they may seem to follow the conversation, this gesture is often a sign that they don’t. If you see this, repeat what you’ve said, or explain it differently.
- Raised Eyebrows: Raised eyebrows often suggest recognition and agreement. Be careful with this one though, because it can also simply be a greeting.
- Head in the Game: This is how you know when yes actually means yes. Philippine people will jerk their heads upward to say it. To say no, they jerk their heads downward. Even if the “no” movement is accompanied with a “yes” response, the gesture means more and is still a refusal.
Knowing Philippine body language and gestures gives small businesses a big advantage when negotiating with suppliers. These are especially important when discussing sensitive topics such as finances and payments.
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