Same Language, Different Business Culture

4 Oct

In preparation for my internship in London next spring, I researched the British business culture and found the following interesting insights.

Management Style

British managers are known for being generalists rather than specialists. Pure academic education is less respected in Britain than in the U.S; the emphasis is on relevant experience.  For example, the British do not feel a manager needs to be the most technically competent person in the company. The British culture also emphasizes management skills that will produce the best results from the team. A manager is expected to have the interpersonal skills to meld a team. Companies highly regard managers’ ability to fix problems. British managers often communicate with subordinates in an indirect way, preferring to request assistance than to be explicit.

Communication Style

Being very non-confrontational, the British consider directness as open confrontation and fear that bluntness will offend the other party. They tend to use more positive phrases. Thus, “I disagree” becomes “I think you have made several excellent points but have you ever considered….” Lack of interest in an idea is often greeted with, “Hmm, that’s an interesting point.” The British also use humor to release tension. The more tense and difficult a situation is, the more likely the British are to use humor.

Meeting Culture 

Some of the British make jokes about Germans that point to cultural differences. “There is no point having a meeting with the Germans because they have already decided the outcome prior to the meeting.” This comment reflects that the British view meetings as forums for open debate. Being over-prepared for meetings can result in a negative impression in the U.K.

Teamwork

Although the team members are brought in with expertise in certain areas, they are expected to take a generalist view and role for the project. Being well-rounded is impressive. The team environment is very friendly and supportive, and the British make decisions within the team.

Conclusion

Having been exposed to the U.S direct style of communication for a long time, I will have to learn how to appreciate the indirectness of the British. I’m also challenged by the expectation of taking a general view of the projects in the U.K. since I’m used to focusing on my narrow expertise. Still, I’m looking forward to immersing myself in a different business culture in London next spring.

by Angela Liu

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