When I was a Recruiter at Robert Half, I interviewed a young Chinese woman as a candidate for a job. She was the only person in my three years who filed a complaint about me.

What was the problem?

She said that I told her she was “un-American.” What? The Regional Manager and my boss called me in, and we finally figured out what happened.

As a Recruiter, there was an emphasis on training about the importance of body language.

There are cultural norms that can influence how some Chinese women shake hands. Their handshakes tend to be less firm with a lighter touch, particularly in a formal setting.

I showed her how to do an “American” handshake with a firm grip which can often be seen as a sign of confidence and respect. But her handshake was soft and limp, so she seemed tentative and insecure.

She thought I said she was not American. In hindsight, I was not sensitive enough about the issue, and she was overly sensitive.

My job as a Recruiter was to make sure that my candidates represented themselves in the best possible light. But in this case, my efforts to teach someone about Western etiquette backfired on me!

Want to improve your cross-cultural communication skills and avoid misunderstandings like the “American Handshake” incident? Take action and learn more about cultural differences in the workplace by scheduling a free consultation today!