CultureWizard Blog

Bridging the Cultural Pond

Posted by Sean on May 30, 2013 6:44:33 AM

An article in the Financial Times sheds light on the oftentimes disguised cultural differences between the UK and US approaches to business. The fact that both societies speak English does not mean they define what is "right" and "wrong" for business in the same way. Here is some guidance from folks that have learned the [oftentimes] harder way -- through trial and error.

Alex Kelleher relocated from London to New York to focus on his organization's growth in North America.

His advice for Britons working in the US is to be confident and avoid self-deprecation. 'The market here definitely likes the confident, self-assured "winner" approach more than it’s appreciated in the UK,' he says. 'Simple, direct and confident communication works best here. And while sometimes self-deprecation can be seen as endearing, it may not be ideal in a competitive environment over here.'

Americans prize people with strong personalities that present their ideas assertively and enthusiastically. Brevity is also highly valued from the "time is money" perspective, which is especially important to consider in New York City. The British preference to provide greater levels of detail and context in presentations will likely annoy Americans who want to move quickly and revise their approach "on the fly".

Nikhil Shah, the founder of music-sharing website Mixcloud who has been doing business in the US for several years, assesses the cultural divide. 'In the States they are louder, more upfront, more direct. We tend to be more reserved, more tentative and certainly more modest,' he says. 'This has a huge potential to work against us out here, since everyone is constantly on the pitch and on their "A" game,' he adds, borrowing an American term.

What's behind this? Americans are taught to be the best, and to share their achievements openly and unabashedly as a means of winning respect, loyalty and business. Americans often perceive the modesty (which goes a long way in the UK) as timidity or a lack of confidence or expertise.

The idea of adapting to the American workplace by becoming a boastful (read: loud) person is intimidating and uncomfortable for the person who's never done so. Like learning a new language, this takes practice!

Click here for a few more tips to better navigate US / UK differences from FT.


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