Cultural Differences – Australia

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To enjoy life is a recognized basic attitude in Australia as well as general optimism.

All are equal

Another important value in the Australian culture and which certainly contributes to the general Australian relaxation is that all should be treated fairly and equally. Hierarchies in companies are therefore flat, and employees and supervisors almost always use first names. No value is placed on academic titles or hierarchical positions. One knows one’s own position, and everyone else knows it, so the general idea is that it does not have to be broadcast. Respect is gained in Australia through hard work and excellent results, not by position or title.

Focusing on one’s own performance is generally not done in Australia. This has nothing to do with lack of work ethic! Professional success is extremely important in Australia and is a source of pride. But as already mentioned, tooting one’s own horn is frowned upon, as is a superior attitude.

Conversely, this means that you should not underestimate your Australian business partners or colleagues if you have little knowledge about their respective abilities.

True participatory leadership

Australians have an aversion to authoritarian behavior. The supervisor is seen as a first among equals and is expected to treat all employees equally well and with courtesy. The goal is to manage the team so that everyone can work well. A pleasant working atmosphere should be accessible to everyone at all times. A dominant and commanding of leadership style or a reference to one’s own superior position would, however, be perceived as arrogant and rude.

Camaraderie as a principle

The concept of the Mateship (camaraderie) forms the basis for Australian modesty, that is, the participatory style of leadership and the comparably flat hierarchies. Historically, this can be traced back to the colonial era when people depended on each other’s support to ensure survival in a harsh environment. Everyone helped everyone. Mateship thus stands for friendship, willingness to help, cohesion, loyalty and equality. Perhaps the best example of this is the perennial revival of the effort to include the term in the Australian constitution. Unfortunately, this has not yet been achieved.

Despite the overall attitude of camaraderie and friendliness, Australia is also an individualistic culture, that is, one is not secondary to the community; rather, the individual focuses first on himself and his family. In the working world, everyone strives for personal success, but not success obtained using force. As in sports, there is team spirit and fairness on the one hand, but winning and wanting to be the best on the other.

Direct and open communication

Australian camaraderie is, of course, also expressed in everyday speech. Many Australians refer to one another at work as “mate” (mates). In addition, everyone talks with everyone, free of any hierarchical differences. They discuss everything openly and directly – face to face.

Small talk and humor also play an important role in establishing a mutually friendly relationship, which is an essential part of working and business life. Both are actively used in tense or unpleasant situations, in an effort to maintain harmony. Australians are not afraid of sensitive or rough topics. See it as a sign of acceptance when your Australian business partners or colleagues share such “jokes” with you.

Despite the salutation with “Mate” and the jokes, it also takes time in Australia to really reach a solid level of friendship. Take time to learn the difference. For example, questions about the family are not suitable for small talk because they are perceived as too personal. It is only when a relationship is established that Australians are more likely to discuss such private topics.

Some societies are very open and literal in their greetings, for example, answering the question “How are you?” with a detailed and frank description. In Australia, this question is only a formality, not an invitation to pour out one’s heart. It is intended as a friendly conversation starter, and is not the same as exchanging personal information with a good friend.

It is therefore better to talk with colleagues and business partners about sports, leisure and hobbies. This generally keeps working life running smoothly.

Indirect expression of criticism

People are not generally openly and directly criticized. Criticizing others directly contradicts the concept of camaraderie and is considered insulting. Criticism should be indirect, cushioned, and friendly. Criticism is often expressed in the form of an indirect, almost incidental, ironic commentary. People from other cultures often miss this subtlety and therefore do not recognize the intended criticism about their ideas, proposals or concepts. In contrast, when it comes to Australians’ self-criticism, all bets are off. Even if this is the case, you should not agree! Just be aware that this is a form of courteously playing down one’s own performances or an attempt to demonstrate equality.

Short meetings

Meetings in Australian companies usually last no longer than an hour. A little small talk at the beginning is customary, but also brief. There is not a lot of fanfare before getting down to the subject at hand.

Meetings are usually relatively short and do not necessarily follow a time-consuming agenda. Consider meetings with Australians rather as a kind of open discussion forum, in which issues are discussed and new ideas are developed. Offering a plan worked out down to the last detail or a perfectly prepared presentation can be interpreted as a “hostile takeover”. Australians like to think in options and do not want to follow a prefabricated plan.

Apart from this, Australians enjoy a stimulating discussion, which is often set in motion with several provocative statements. A violent argument is not uncommon. Do not take harsh words personally. After the meeting everyone will be happy to go out with you after work.

Relaxed working style

Australians seem relaxed at work. If an error occurs, there is not a lot fuss about it, as blame is viewed as pointless. There is a solution for every problem. Flexibility and pragmatism are key. The focus is on what is currently happening, not on what does not work.

In general, work is done in Australia rather quickly and straightforwardly, without excessive focus on detail or protracted plans and consideration. Working eight hours a day instead of twelve is considered working smart rather than working hard. Australians focus on the essentials and forward momentum.

Some decisions can take a long time. This is because the management will often consult with experts and collect opinions until a consensus decision can be reached for all parties. Be patient, any form of pressure could reflect badly on you.

A few etiquette tips

The casual and relaxed attitude of the Australians does not mean time is not valuable! On the contrary, Australians place great value on punctuality, especially in business life.

Greetings and farewells are accompanied by a loose handshake, a smile, a few nice words and small talk.

Eye contact is important and signals attention and honesty in communication. But be careful with the thumbs-up gesture, which has a completely different meaning in Australia than “All is good” or “Super”!

The dress code can vary. Depending on the industry and city, dark suits or attire are appropriate. In other regions or sectors, the dress code can be significantly relaxed. In Brisbane, you’ll see businessmen wearing a shirt, tie and Bermuda shorts. This is however the exception and for foreigners certainly not recommended.

Katrin Koll Prakoonwit

+49 (0)711 722 468 44
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