Cultural Differences – Great Britian

Weathered Flag Of United Kingdom, fabric textured

The refined “English manner” is famous around the world and synonymous primarily with respectful and reserved behaviour. Included in this is an unlimited politeness in every situation. Emotional outbursts of any kind are deemed embarrassing and compromising. Everyone who has received a reasonably good education knows how to retain his composure.

Small Talk for the Initial Business Contact

British culture also demands the creation of a pleasant atmosphere at all times. Thus, the British are masters of small talk. Their skill at having an animated conversation even about something very trivial is particularly remarkable. Many things that others don’t deem worth mentioning form the basis for the start of a conversation. Since no business meeting can pass without this skill of having non-committal conversations, foreign business partners should definitely practise a little small talk. The aim is to establish a good overall mood and a personal relationship, before you get on to business. Calm and measured speech, without gesticulating wildly, and possibly using the famous ‘stiff’ upper lip, is particularly valued.

Humour Opens all Doors

Despite all stiffness the British are notorious for their humour which is unbeatable. There are only a few taboos. And many things that Britons can laugh heartily at, people from other cultures think of as going too far. British jokes are generally based on clever wordplay or everyday events that are exaggerated to the extreme. It is presumed that the listener is thinking on his feet. The punchline is thus not always obvious. Being able to laugh even about something morbid, one’s own weaknesses is always good for business relations. However, you should never lose the balance between polite behaviour and British humour.

Understating Instead of Proving Yourself

Another art that the British master very well is confident understatement: No one emphasises his position or professional know-how. Britons don’t demonstrate the effort that was necessary to achieve results. Whereas people from some cultures are always anxious to show how hard-working they are, in Great Britain you can’t shine with such behaviour. The motto is: you either are truly great or you are not. In day-to-day business, you thus have to be able to listen carefully: if an Englishman, for example, knows something better than his colleagues or business partners, he will in all modesty only subtly make a few remarks regarding his doubts during a discussion. No more.

Despite the overall modesty in Great Britain, one should not underestimate the existence of a distinctive class consciousness. You should thus be careful when it comes to, for example, remarks about your ancestry, school days or university studies. One could easily draw wrong conclusions about class affiliation that the speaker had not intended at all.

Keeping Distance

Gentlemanly behaviour always aims to maintain one’s distance to others – in a physical as well as a personal sense. The social distance that is necessary in Great Britain is nicely demonstrated on the London underground: Despite rush hour, everyone tries to avoid touching or directly looking at others. If several seats are unoccupied, the British usually pick the seat that is furthest away from other passengers.

With this picture in mind, you should also respect the protection of privacy. Misunderstandings can easily arise between people from other cultures and the British when it comes to this topic: initial contact with strangers using small talk comes naturally to British people. They will immediately offer you their help if they see you looking at a street map, and foreign business partners have also said that they found it very easy to make contacts in Great Britain. Building on this relationship was, however, often unsuccessful. This is due to the fact that people from abroad are often quickly mislead to believing that the extremely polite and friendly manner of the British is a sign that a personal relationship has been established. If they then go a bit further, for example by asking a personal question, they seriously infringe on privacy and become highly unpopular, more than they are made to believe. The understanding of privacy in Great Britain does not leave much room for interpretation. Included are not only private and family life, but also personal beliefs, opinions, preferences or the way one works.

Be Careful with Criticism

Criticism is, similarly, only expressed in a very indirect way in order not to offend the other person and infringe his privacy. It is easily done to ignore those carefully expressed crucial tips when communicating with British business partners and thus shock them by asking critical questions or making critical remarks too directly. It is therefore advisable to soften your words by speaking in an extremely polite manner during conversations with the British. Instructions should also always be expressed as polite requests.

In business life, the comparatively restrictive privacy of the British can moreover have the effect that well-meant advice expressed by the other side, for example with regards to the organisation of a joint project, can be interpreted as interfering with their work or their responsibilities. In principle, when it comes to work topics you can make suggestions, but never argue about what is right or wrong, better or worse. It is, however, absolutely necessary that you sufficiently praise good ideas or groundwork.

The British Way of Negotiating

It is also crucial for foreign business partners to listen carefully in negotiations. Britons show only limited reactions if they don’t agree with something and will not further explain their rejection. They will, on the one hand, directly express their views with regards to a suggestion that has been made, but on the other hand, they will do so in a rather calm and subtle manner. Before they agree to an offer and the next round of negotiations can start, the British tend to take a lot of time to weigh all of the presented arguments. Impatient business partners should, in circumstances like that, not make the mistake of applying more pressure by making use of additional sales tactics. This only very rarely leads to success. Instead, it is much better to further strengthen the sales pitch by using pragmatic and fact-based arguments. It is important to create trust and to convince with good information. The decision itself is generally made at top management level.

The Right Mixture

Even if foreign business people travelling in Great Britain cannot become the perfect gentleman or the perfect lady overnight, traits like politeness, the ability to compromise and tolerance build a bridge that helps establishing harmonious business relations. Business people from abroad are also advised to practise understating in order to avoid overwhelming the reserved British business partners or even scaring them off by communicating too directly. A good mixture of an interpersonal relationship built on small talk and an adequate focus on the task will certainly produce the desired results.

Katrin Koll Prakoonwit

+49 (0)711 722 468 44
Cookie Consent with Real Cookie Banner