Interviewers for industrial positions commonly use
behavioral based questions to explore what a
candidate might do in a future situation, based on
her (or his) previous behaviors in the past.
These type interview questions have been
commented on in several blog posts 1 2 3
There seem to be interesting cultural and
linguistic origins to our behaviors. One of
the things to recognize is that behaviors accepted
in one culture are not well received in others.
We kid each other when academics and
entrepreneurs mix together how “laid back”
one group is and how “assertive” and action-
oriented another group is.
One can adapt and transition our behaviors
but it must be done thoughtfully and with
Experts in linguistics debate fine details
of universal grammar, but Lisa Boroditsky
authored an interesting piece describing how
cultures portrayed by their languages
affect specific behaviors. “Patterns in
language offer a window on a culture’s
dispositions and priorities.” In this
language seems to encode different
cultures views of the world.
So, since we realize words represent
less than half of the content in communication
and ‘body language’ provides much more,
we each present a different cultural body
language as well.
Yesterday, I interviewed an individual
who displayed two behaviors that struck
me instantaneously. Avoiding eye contact
and over-affirmation (yes, smiling, nodding,
‘that is right’ in rapid-fire, mid-sentence
We worked on both throughout our conversation.
Based on his culture there is deep deference
offered to someone he respects and believes
knows more. This leads to the behavior of
not being able to maintain eye contact and
to nod and say “yes” and not question items.
In our culture, it is nearly required that we
maintain good eye contact as it displays
trust, integrity and truthfulness (at the same time
respect is not lessened). Over affirmation tends
to come across not in the intended fashion of
respect, but more as “not well understanding
the topic” of discussion and “wanting to get it
So, Lost in Translation can be done in body
language as well.