Cultural Differences – USA

Casual small talk

US-Americans are certainly considered experts when it comes to innocuous small talk. Having an easy-going conversation helps creating a pleasant atmosphere, and this again is important for doing business. It may well be the case that during this kind of conversation your US-American business partner tells you that it would be nice if you joined him for dinner someday. Please don’t take such an invitation too seriously – if you want to fix a day and time right away your business partner might easily feel pressured.

Developing ideas

US-Americans are not very fond of expressing criticism directly. They would be rather irritated if they presented a concept or an idea which would then be criticised by their colleagues in order to optimise it. Instead, they prefer to develop new concepts or approaches collectively: each attendant of a meeting may make suggestions which are then discussed (the right amount of approval and enthusiasm is certainly part of the game). In this way a concept is developed step by step.

When preparing for a meeting or a presentation please also bear in mind that your US-American business partners won’t necessarily drop a clear “No”. They will rather paraphrase their disagreement, so instead of a “no” you may get answers such as “I’m not sure”, “That’s interesting”, “I’ll have to think about it” or “We’ve never done this before”. Briefly speaking anything that sounds evasive in one way or the other, is not a “Yes”.

Right on the spot

When holding a presentation US-Americans like to keep it short, concise and goal-orientated. They want to get right to the point and have no patience for long theoretical remarks. Instead of verbally elaborating on details these are rather included in a handout.

Communication channels

In US-American companies you will always find precisely defined communication channels. Memos are a means of maintaining a constant flow of information, and in meetings the agenda is of high importance – everything you want to discuss should be submitted previously. The written word is of high validity and that is why time schedules are in general followed strictly.

It’s all about business

Americans have a short time orientation and mainly pursue business interests. However they also prefer to do business with people they know a little bit. Maintaining your relationship is therefore always important in business life. You are well advised to strictly separate business from private matters though. In any case you want to make sure you don’t give the impression that you are abusing a good personal relationship for doing business. Don’t expect an American business partner to value your personal contact more than a business decision that is important to him and his company. In terms of negotiations he will also be just as focused on his goals even though you might have played golf together the day before. Don’t try to include your good personal relationship into decisions or negotiations. That will immediately evoke a bad reputation. Of course it is possible to create a network by choosing relationships strategically. But you never want to give the impression that you are expecting to be treated better than others.

High mobility

Another characteristic of the US-American business culture is high mobility. This is underlined by their constant readiness to adapt and their flexible attitude towards time and space. According to statistics employees are relocated every two to three years. Furthermore it is absolutely common for employees to change companies when they get the chance to climb up the career ladder or to simply earn more money. This practice has nothing to do with disloyalty – in the United States every person obtains the right to pursue happiness.

Performance by competition

The US-American business culture is defined by strong work ethics and by tough competition. As early as in highschool sports competitions are high on the agenda. In professional life this doesn’t change: employees receive written feedbacks on a regular basis in which they are checked against their colleagues in terms of their performance. In this way each employee constantly knows where he/she stands. This is why a well-developed sense of self-confidence characterises US-American businessmen and -women. In addition they usually represent an optimistic attitude true to the motto: “I can do it”. Mind you, fairness and the ability to work in a team are also traits which derive from the American sportsmanship and form part of their general code of behaviour.

Time is money!

Never put off until tomorrow what you can do today: Due to their short-term orientation US-Americans are focused on results and quick solutions. To put it simply: time is money!

Katrin Koll Prakoonwit

+49 (0)711 722 468 44
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