Cameroon I had the rare honour to be introduced to the Fon of Bafut
(A Fon is the "King" of the area and Bafut is the largest
of the three provinces in Cameroon). Prior to the meeting I was
given explicit instructions not to shake his hand and what to do
with my own hands instead. Our friend who had arranged the meeting,
was his son. This was not as important as you might think because
the Fon had over 100 wives and presumably as many sons, in addition
the Fon wasnt my friends real father. When a Fon dies
the new Fon takes over the old Fons wives (with the exception
of his own Mother of course) so the Fon was probably my friends
step father or even step brother, or probably both. None the less
it was an honour to meet him.
was I? Oh yes! Prior to the meeting I was told that the proper use
of the hands when speaking to the Fon is in front of your mouth
with your eyes cast down to the floor, and when the Fon is speaking
the hands should keep up a quiet clapping motion in front of the
body. It was felt, however that I may get this wrong which would
be a terrible insult, so when (if) the Fon addresses me I should
keep my hands behind my back at all times, which I did. I also looked
at him when he talked which was, apparently, not on, so my conversation
with the Fon was quite short. We consoled ourselves after the audience
with the Fon with a couple of bottles of a local beer and a stew
made from cane rat which was delicious.
psychology behind the position of the hands is, I guess, that the
Fon is too important to care about your attitude when you are talking
to him so you should lower your eyes and hold both hands over your
mouth. This would effectively hide your body language and therefore
a large part of the communication of your feelings. By clapping
when the Fon is talking however you are indicating your approval
of what he is saying. He is all powerful in the area anyway so I
guess it doesnt matter what you feel, you have to approve.
story may seem to be drifting away from the point, and so early
in the book too, but in fact it serves to underline an important
issue. When doing business with people of other cultures, it is
not only important to learn some of their verbal language but also
their body language. By not fully understanding the importance of
averting my eyes, my conversation with the Fon was cut short. Under
the circumstances this was not a problem but if I had been visiting
the Fon to get his approval over some business matter, my mistake
could have been catastrophic.
lesson here is easy one. I was told what to do, and I simply did
not realise the importance of this type of body language.
business we learn by training or experience how to use verbal and
written language to communicate. Nobody would doubt the importance
of these media in business communications, and without a good command
of the appropriate language, business at anything but a basic level
would be impossible.
will see through the course of this book that our understanding
of body language is equally important in business. Most of us learn
the basics of body language at an early age and continue to develop
that knowledge through use and experience. This is simply not enough
if we want to take full advantage of all the communication tools
at our disposal.
any area of business where interaction with others is important,
an understanding of body language is an invaluable tool. This would
include Human Resources, Training, Sales, Purchasing, Negotiators,
Managers and many more.
book is not designed to be an exhaustive study of body language
throughout our 11 official cultures here in South Africa, or indeed
the thousands of different cultures throughout the world. I have
tried where possible to include the differences I have experienced,
but armed with the basics in this book you are likely to become
tuned to body language and the differences between the various people
what, you may be asking, was I doing in Cameroon anyway? Well...
I think I will leave that for another book.