British vs American Business Culture: A Concise Guideline

The United States and Britain may speak the same language, but that doesn’t mean that these two superpowers are alike in every aspect. In fact, when we compare British vs American work culture, we will see that the differences between the two countries are numerous.

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Bearing in mind that British cities such as London, and American metropolises like New York rank among the top ten places in the world to do business or set up a company, it’s no surprise that so many Australians find ways to relocate to either of them every year, or that so many British and American people turn their eyes to the other side of the pond in hopes of capitalizing on thriving business prospects.

However, if you want to avoid misunderstandings, make sure to check out these 4 differences between British vs American business culture before you set sails to a new country.

Chatting it up in the UK vs. the USA

Small talk is a vital part of doing business in the US. As soon as you arrive at your new workplace, you will see that it’s very common for people to ask each other about their respective children, discuss their plans for the weekend, or just talk about the weather before meetings. Well, if you were to do the same in the UK; you would be faced with the first big British vs American etiquette dilemma.

In Britain, small talk is often perceived as a superfluous portion of the business process. Due to their more reserved nature, people from the U.K. are known to not warm up to outsiders and not be as chatty as Americans generally are. So, if you’re travelling to Great Britain on business, forget about all those getting-to-know-you questions that worked so well during your stay in the US. In fact, don’t be surprised if meetings tend to be more of a straight-faced, straight-to-the-point kind of event. That’s just a British vs American work culture thing.

Selling yourself: British vs American business etiquette

Saying that the United States thrives on producing its fair amount of entrepreneurs and game-changers would be a huge understatement. But the position of US as a global superpower is not a matter of chance. From a very early age, Americans are taught to be competitive and to sell themselves unashamedly whenever a good opportunity arises. After all, if you don’t talk yourself up, who will?

If you’re knowledgeable about British culture, you will have already realised that this is the second big difference between British vs American business etiquette. Indeed, if you start talking up your skills and accomplishments in the UK, you may find yourself wondering what is up with the long faces! As it happens, the same type of assertive, overconfident discourse that may open big doors for you in the United States, is very likely to put off potential employers or partners in the UK.

While having the ability to sell yourself is a must in American corporate culture, in Britain is better to just keep it short and sweet by following three simple rules: don’t embellish, stick to the point, and state the facts.

British vs American after-work culture.

As you will have noticed by now, much of this “British vs American business etiquette” guideline is not about how you behave in the office, but how you conduct yourself around colleagues.

For example, the US and the UK draw the line at distinctly different points when it comes to merging the job with personal life. In America, people are less likely to spend time with colleagues after work, mostly due to the slew of activities Americans love to keep themselves busy with. Whether they are at a softball game or volunteering at a local shelter, Americans seem to love to spread themselves thin. In the UK., on the other hand, grabbing a pint with Jim and Rhonda from HR is a frequent way to pass the time after clocking out. As a result, many British tend to have closer relationships with co-workers than most Americans.

The meaning of success in British vs American work culture

If, like me, you’ve grown up watching American movies, I shouldn’t have to tell you this: in the United States, being a success in the corporate world is defined by how much money you make. The wealthier you are, the more successful you are. In Britain, although money is important, what position you hold in the company is even more important. While the typical American may take a raise over a promotion any day, Brits view a high position in the company and a book full of contacts to fall back on as the ultimate definition of success. Sure, money makes the world go round, but apparently not as much in certain business cultures as in others!

The Importance of multilingualism in the English-speaking market

There may be vast ‘British vs American’ work culture differences if one stops to think about them, but one thing is for sure: both American and British companies are in high demand for multilingual employees to help them rule the job market.

In today’s globalised world, a diverse skillset that includes proficiency in at least one foreign language gives candidates a significant advantage by being able to help the company reach new markets, connect with more clients, and share relevant cultural knowledge that could aid the business and boost revenue.

Besides, as both the US and UK’s populations become more culturally diverse, multilingualism gives you greater flexibility to move around different positions within a company and, by proving how crucial your languages skills are to the organisation, get raises and bonuses that monolingual competitors can only dream of.

So, if you want to make a break into the corporate world of the USA or Britain, you will need to do two things: first, make sure you get those British vs USA business etiquette facts right; and second, sign up for some professional language lessons and get a head start on your competition.

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