Eye Contact – and the Latino Culture.
Have you noticed differences between the Latino Culture and ours?
Here in the United States, we value eye contact – but it’s different in the Latino Culture.
Look at me. I’m talking to you.
What many North Americans don’t understand is that many other cultures are just the opposite.
When I was growing up and my Mom or Dad wanted my attention, they would say, “Look at me, I’m talking to you.” They wanted me to focus on them.
When a child from Mexico, or Colombia, (or many Asian or African countries) is growing up, and especially when they are in trouble, their mother or father may say, “Don’t look at me! I’m talking to you.”
The child is to look at the floor, or their hands, or anywhere but eye-to-eye.
If they were to look at their parents eye-to-eye, it would be taken as defiance.
“Bring it on! Give me your best shot!”
Now—what happens when the two cultural differences collide in the form of a job interview?
An immigrant is interviewing with an American manager.
The manager is asking questions: “What’s your name? Where have you worked?”
Where does the immigrant look?
At the desk. At the floor. At their hands. Anywhere but directly, eye-to-eye, at the manager.
THEY DO THIS TO SHOW RESPECT.
What does the American manager think?
“This person won’t even look me in the eye.
They must be dishonest. They must be lying.”
By painting someone else with our own cultural norms, we introduce our own bias into the mix. We may not even know this is happening.
Addressing a cultural difference like this requires education.
- We can let the manager know that looking down is an immigrant’s sign of respect.
- We can let the job applicant know that eye contact, in our culture, is very important.
Even better, we can let the two of them explain it to each other. Then it really sinks in.[The text above is an excerpt from my book Beyond Words – A Radically Simple Solution to Unify Communities, Strengthen Businesses, and Connect Cultures Through Language.]