Perception Business Skills
Richard Mulvey  
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In the Beginning

Chapter I

The Face

Chapter II

The Head

Chapter III

The Hands

Chapter IV

The Arms

Chapter V

The Legs

Chapter VI


Chapter VII


Chapter VIII


Chapter IX

The Human Courtship Dance

Chapter X

Reversible Body Language

Part II

Body Language In Action



When in Rome

In 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 wasn’t my friend’s real father. When a Fon dies the new Fon takes over the old Fon’s wives (with the exception of his own Mother of course) so the Fon was probably my friend’s step father or even step brother, or probably both. None the less it was an honour to meet him.

Where 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.

The 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 doesn’t matter what you feel, you have to approve.

This 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.

The 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.

In 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.

You 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.

In 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.

This 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 you meet.

And what, you may be asking, was I doing in Cameroon anyway? Well... I think I will leave that for another book.