Working With Americans: Business Etiquette
Working With Americans: Business Etiquette
Allyson Stewart-Allen (International Marketing Consultant) gives expert video advice on: What common terms do Americans use that are different?; How long does an american meeting last?; Should my phone be switched on or off during a meeting? and more...
What common terms do Americans use that are different?
There are a lot of different words that we use in American English in business. I'll give you a couple of examples. One of them is the word "scheme". Now in the United States, a "scheme" is an illegal fund raising activity and very often you'll hear British counterparts of theirs saying, "Oh, we have a fantastic pension scheme." And so Americans immediately think, "Oh, do I go to jail over a pension scheme?" because "schemes" do not mean the same thing usually in the States; we'd use the word "plan" or "program" rather than scheme. The other very interesting term is to "table". So if you have an agenda and you "table" your agenda, in the U.S to "table" an agenda or to table anything means to take it off the table and to talk about it later- not to talk about it now. In the UK and in Europe to "table" is to talk now. So I have been in several meetings where the first ten minutes is sort of paper aerobics where papers fly on and off--all Americans say, "Yes, we've tabled that" and the British say, "Yes, we're tabling it." and no one really knows what's going on and if you lose 10 minutes out of an hours meeting or even a half hours meeting, which is increasingly the length of an average meeting in the U.S these days, you've lost a significant amount of time in making a connection and building a profitable relationship.
How long does an american meeting last?
Typically, a meeting in the US these days is about 30 to 45 minutes. It used to be the norm that it was an hour, and in the UK it's typically an hour. But in the US, increasingly we're time squeezed, we're multi-tasking, we have mountains of e-mail, we have a PDA in our hand that's obviously blinking a lot telling us we have all of these messages. So, we're increasingly squeezed, and so 30 to 45 minutes is typically the norm.
Should my phone be switched on or off during a meeting?
It is polite to turn off your Blackberry and/or your mobile phone during a meeting because it then says, 'I'm interested in you and I am interested in this meeting, and I do not like the distractions of other things going on'. Typically your hosts will also turn off their mobile phones as well in the U.S., so even though the phone might be out on the table, and maybe on vibrate, it certainly is not ringing.
How do American emails differ to British?
If you are working with an American, the kinds of email replays you should expect will generally be short. So you might have a very long complicated question that you put to them and you might just get a sentence back that says, "Yes, next Thursday", and you think, "What else about yes, next Thursday." So generally you may not get all the contextual information you would want but generally one thing you'll find out about Americans with email is that they're generally quite responsive and very quick to reply. So usually within about forty-eight hours, two days or so, you will have your emails responded to.
What do Americans prefer to use to back up an argument, statistics or opinions?
Generally, to support an argument, or a point of view, Americans will use statistics, and will use numbers. It's a business culture where quantitative trumps qualitative. So anything quantitative is a good idea to have. So, in pitching to Americans, or communicating anything about effectiveness, or returns on investment, numbers really make a difference. Qualitative arguments are interesting, but qualitative arguments really should come after you've presented the numbers up front, because Americans are looking for "the bottom line", what's the impact of what you're selling me going to be on my business in terms of money, in terms of time savings, in terms of something I can actually measure. So we have an adage in the US, which is that you can't manage what you can't measure, which in one sense is a good thing, but on the other hand, if we're so extreme, which we are around numbers, we often forget the other side of the coin, which is about the qualitative aspects of an argument.
Is cold calling an effective tactic with American companies?
I think cold calling with Americans can be very productive and very effective, because you might have an accent that's not traditional.
What is the best way to network with Americans?
Networking with Americans is very explicit. It's very clear that if I'm talking to you at a cocktail party or a reception, and if I sort of sense that maybe you're not going to immediately be useful to me and my business, we will move on and talk to someone else. Now it isn't about being insincere, but it is about being transactional. So Americans are looking to do a deal. Find people that are going to help them do deals, if you like, or win business. And if I sense that you're not immediately going to be able to help me do that, we're on to the next person in the room. So the networking is maybe shorter in terms of the amount of time that we talk to someone and it feels much more transactional. But it's not to be taken personally. It's just that we're doing business rather than trying to build friendships, necessarily.
When and how are business cards presented in America?
We present business cards at the very beginning of meeting you. Now, one reason we do that is so that we can remember your name, and if we put the business cards out in front of us on the table at a meeting where there's five or six of you where the reason we do that is so we don't forget that, Oh God, that's John over there who I called him Matt. Oh no. It's really so that we can be polite, but also so we can see what the title of the person is. So, it's useful for us to kind of gauge the status, if you like, of the person we're negotiating with. Also, getting their name right helps, which is why we present cards at the very beginning.
How important is the quality of the business card?
The quality of business cards is actually pretty important, because what it does say to an American, or anyone for that matter, is that it's four-color, it's thick card, it's embossed or engraved, and clearly this company wants to spend money on the right impression. The inexpensive business cards don't necessarily communicate quality, and in the U.S., cosmetics really matter, packaging really matters, so having a high-quality card, that's the right size is really important and be aware that business card shapes in the U.S. are often smaller, they're shorter, they're less wide in the U.S. than they are in the U.K., which is important because we very often will slide them into a pre-formed business card holder and if your card doesn't fit we're not going to necessarily sit at the desk and cut your card to shape so that it fits in, it might end up in the bin if you're not careful.
To what extent do Americans use humour in business meetings?
One of the things that you'll find in working with Americans in a business meeting is there definitely will be Humor. The key though, is using Humor carefully so that it's understood by everyone in the room. If there is someone in the room that doesn't understand the joke, the Americans assume that the joke is about them and it's at their expense and that is first and best way to undermine any kind relationship you are trying to build. So using Humor is a good idea, but irony is not necessarily a good idea because Americans may not understand it. Not because they are thick or they are stupid or anything like that, but because irony is dependent on the language and American English is a very different language to British English. So if you do use irony just be sure that your American colleagues are really going to understand it
Do Americans and British differ in the way they introduce themselves?