Cultural Communication Differences in Business
Communicating across cultures is challenging: we know this logically. However, it seems that often we forget that American and British cultures are extremely different due to the shared language.
When a different language altogether is spoken, or an accent is wildly detectable, cultural differences are top of mind for all involved. When the language spoken is similar, — and familiar due to the prevalence of film and television — the cultural differences can become camouflaged by the visual and audio similarities.
We’re communicating multinationally even more than ever. American salespeople may get off the phone from someone in the UK and report feeling somewhat rejected — even if the conversation resulted in a sale.
The problem here, is not the American salesperson. Nor is it that Brits are cold. It’s just that there is a cultural difference present that should be taken into account. Americans are taught that they have to be toasty warm and gain a prospect’s trust in order to get them into the funnel. With an American audience this is expected, welcomed, and essential due to the level of customer service that is demanded. Brits on the other hand dislike it when a stranger is adoring and attentive to the point of making a Golden Retriever look nonchalant. They prefer business transactions to be a little more sterile, and treat too much warmth with suspicion.
Now granted that we are all individuals and that no two people from the same culture will react in the exact same way, but as a general rule these cultural differences hold true.
Another note to Americans: British people are often joking with you — you just don’t know it. People in the UK have a subtle sense of humor, but it is rife and rarely do a couple of sentences pass without some form of joke or irony quip in there. But don’t worry, because you’re not supposed to laugh. That’s part of the fun.
If British people are mean to you it generally means they like you. They are inviting you into their cult of backhanded compliments, underhanded insults, puns, irony, and sarcasm.
So American salespeople, don’t be disheartened when you get off a colder-than-usual conference call with a Brit. But whatever you do, don’t go overboard in the “We’re in this together,” theme. In the UK they don’t kiss on the first date — well, at least in business related dates, anyway.
Separated by a Common Language
Tips for American businesspeople talking to British businesspeople:
When a Brit says “I’m sorry,” that doesn’t mean they are sorry, it means: “You’re an idiot.”
“A bit dear,” means that your product is too expensive, not that it is cute.
If you detect a joke, whatever you do don’t laugh. Maybe snigger — but not for too long — the game with British jokes is that the less obvious they are the more important it is that you pretend it was so obvious it doesn’t warrant a laugh. But a chortle will make it clear enough that you outed the joke. Whatever you do don’t do nothing, as then it will be assumed that you didn’t get the joke at all. Clear? Good.