Image & Etiquette Institute of Los Angeles

Diana Olson & Company/Diana's Color Collage                 Since 1980

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Cultural Awareness & Social Skills

Cultural Diversity is multiculturalism within an organization. It is about awareness and respect for cultures other than your own. How others think, feel, and act evolves from the family, protocol and experiences of their native land

First Impressions: Universally accepted business practices and protocol that are used around the world.

  • Language: Learn a few words in the language of the clients,
  • Walk:  Walk with purpose, authority and confidence.
  • Acknowledgement: Everyone needs to feel important.  Acknowledge with a handshake or appropriate cultural greeting at the beginning and end of the meeting.
  • Communication:  It is important to be interested and interesting....mostly  interested. Speak slowly using good English.

        Do express regret at the inability to speak in their language. Use short sentences. Compliment the        host/guest on their skill at speaking your language.

  • Seating:  Have your guest sit first, in the seat with the best view.

        Asians need to be seated facing the front door. Sit gently on the edge of the chair and slide back.

  • Body Language: Most cultures use non-verbal cues of potential business partners to determine future business.  A calm voice that  uses restraint from anger, and good eye contact appropriate for the culture will position you as a trusted friend and negotiator.
  • Silence/ Listening: Can be a sign of strength. Regroup your thoughts and stay centered like other cultures. Listening without interruption is very important.
  • Negotiations:  State in a positive manner as to what you want. Negotiations involve the need to understand.  An American interpreter who speaks the language or someone educated in the USA will best convey your feelings and attitudes, rather than an interpreter from another country.  Look at the party who is being addressed, not at the interpreter.


             In “The Hidden Dimension” by Edward Hall, defines the two types of cultures as Monochronic and Polychronic.  It describes how the cultures view time, how they approach life and their business.

Monochronic:  USA, Germany, Northern Europe (Japan is combination).

Polychronic:  Southern Europe, Middle East, Latin America, Mexico



                  Monochronic                                  Polychronic

Do one thing at a time                         Do many things at a time

Are involved with doing the job           Involved with family, friends         

Concentrates on the task                    Are highly distractible

Takes time commitments seriously       Take time commitment lightly

Follows plans                                       Change plans easily and quickly

Concern: privacy/consideration            Prefer close relationships

Have their own private office               Comfortable with sharing public spaces

Need facts to make decision                Goes with “Gut Feelings”

Respect for Private Property                Always borrowing and lending

Promptness is Emphasized                  Almost Never on Time

Do “Deals”                                            Do “Relationships”


                                The First Meeting

Business Introductions:

Introductions and cultural greetings are an important element of the style and form so important to other countries and cultures.

  • The person whose name is mentioned first holds the most important position.
  • Always describe a person’s position when you introduce them.
  • Mr. Client”, may I introduce my broker, Mr. Sanchez. Your client is the most important person.
  • Learn the cultural greeting of the person’s country.
  • Keep introductions formal, until otherwise asked to use first name.
  • Introduce a group of clients by company ranking to your boss.
  • Use Mr. to Mr./Ms and last name instead of first name.

“Mr. Chang, I would like to introduce Ms. Smith” (correct)

“Mr. Change, I would like to introduce Jane Smith” (incorrect)

          Proper Introduction:

“Mr. Chang, I would like you to meet Mr. Gray, our broker.  Mr. Chang is from Taiwan and is here to look at the beautiful homes in our area.”


Eye Contact:

Most countries including Japan, Europe and Latin America are taught that eye contact is important.  Their eye contact will not be as strong as the U.S.

If they break eye contact, maintain your eye contact until their eye contact returns.


Business Card Savvy:

Present your business card with the print facing the receiver.

Have the back of your business card in THEIR LANGUAGE (present this way)


Conversation Styles & Space:

Americans are very conscious of their own space and have difficult times accepting other cultures conversational spatial distance of other cultures.


Arabs:  Stand the closest at approximately 15” away, followed by Latin America.  Latin Europeans also stand and sit very close during conversation.  They are often insulted that Americans back away from them during conversation. Americans  and British can feel uncomfortable when a foreigner is too close. It feels too aggressive. 


Do not expect an Arab meeting to be private at one’s home.  Your host is surrounded by relatives and family.  Accept their hospitality of drink and food and never refuse! It is an insult.


Japanese: feel uncomfortable at less than twice the distance preferred by North Americans.  Aside from the handshake, there is no physical contact.


The Northern Europeans and especially the British guard the space around them and never touch or move too close, for this is considered an invasion of privacy.


Latin Americans:  may squeeze your arm or shoulder, pat your hand, tap your chest or feel your lapel on your coat.  Latin American men are quite charming to American women and this courteousness should not be misinterpreted.


Latin Americans feel that good relationships lead to good business relationships.  It is very important that they get to know you—relax and don’t be rushed for the deal!  Avoid showing anger or impatience, both as seen as disrespectful.


Avoid gestures or beckon with fingers or palms up. 



A proper handshake is given when your right hand is horizontal and straight with thumb up.  Two pumps are acceptable.  In the United States, a confident handshake is firm, yet  not bone crushing.


French:  Shake hands in one brisk (softer) stroke)

Latin America: Execute a light handshake that lingers twice as long as in the US.

Middle EasternersHave a limp and lingering handshake

Asia:  Incorporate a bow and handshake

Europe: Softer handshake.


Even in a softer handshake, straight hand, thumb  up.  Embrace the hand with your fingers.  A handshake is like a hug and should feel energy, not emptiness.



  • Crossing legs in N. Europe shows poor breeding.
  • With Arabs, showing the bottom of the shoe is offensive.
  • Use gestures with caution
  • Keep voice level low.
  • Avoid being abrupt, direct, loud or showing anger
  • Be careful of being overly friendly.
  • Do accept all hospitality with graciousness.
  • Avoid smoking or chewing gum.
  • You may follow your host when he sits.
  • Keep English simple—no slang or jokes.
  • Talk positively and say what you mean.
  • Being interested and a good listener is essential
  • Negotiate with an interpreter who will be on your right. Look at the other person, not the interpreter.
  • Most important is understanding name pronunciation, dining and business etiquette, correct dress,  and communication style.




Diana loves to travel!  She has taken a 'Trip Around the World" and visited fifty-five countries during years of travel.  In addition, she has lived in three countries, Japan, Libya and Puerto.