According to the International Labour Organisation, Americans work longer hours than any other developed country – 137 more hours per year than Japanese workers, 260 more hours per year than British workers and 499 more hours per year than French workers. The saying ‘Time is money’ may be a cliché, but it’s no joke. So how do you make a good impression in a country where everything seems to be done in a rush? Here are our top 12 tips:
- It goes without saying that you should not waste someone’s time or you will quickly lose respect. Americans work under a lot of pressure to produce results. Society revolves around getting things done quickly, hence the ‘fast’ everything from coffee to food to ‘elevator pitches’ in business. Always be punctual. Produce an agenda before a meeting and stick to it.
- Understand why Americans can seem rushed and even aggressive in business. Individuals are accountable, even if they are part of a team. The pressure to achieve can be intense, and the readiness to fire non-performers fosters insecurity.
- Be prepared to be flexible with your time. Americans work long hours and take little holiday. Early breakfast meetings or late-night calls are normal. Conference calls to suit American working hours are also common, even if you are in a time zone on the other side of the world.
- Business is strictly business and working relationships are not considered important, although there is no denying that connections help. The USA may be a meritocracy but the old university fraternity and sorority systems do serve as a kind ‘old boy’ (and girl) network. As a foreigner, though, who is not privy to these networks, you will probably not be aware of these nuances in business relationships.
- Despite business seeming sometimes impersonal, American companies do work hard at team-building so take advantage of opportunities to socialize with colleagues after work. Do not expect long lunches, though; these are a thing of the past.
- Keep abreast of what matters in political correctness. Be sensitive to language you use in written communication, meetings and promotional literature. Never make assumptions about anybody’s background or salary grade. All Americans, whatever their rank, expect to be shown respect and be treated equally. It’s essential to observe this.
- Prepare for communication to be direct and explicit. Say what you mean and make it clear. Americans consider someone who dodges around the truth, or fact, to be unreliable and a time-waster. Having said this, avoid direct criticism or stirring conflict; being too outspoken is considered rude and may shock people.
- Although you may get the impression that the heavy sell is part of daily life, Americans are more likely to respect individuals who actually do what they say they are going to do. Only commit to what you can achieve. It is acceptable to promote your past achievements, to an extent, but try not to appear boastful.
- Foreigners are expected to assimilate themselves into American culture and certainly to speak English. Americans are not xenophobic but many people have never traveled abroad and other cultures and languages are simply alien to them and may make them feel uncomfortable. Speaking in another language at a meeting is very bad form, for example.
- When pitching ideas and business proposals, keep in mind that Americans tend to focus on the short term and on instant profit. Base your proposal on speed, cost and efficiency, not past relationships or long term development.
- Prepare for short attention spans. Keep presentations to the point; long, rambling introductions to set the scene will quickly lose your audience. Do not be surprised if people interrupt a speech to make their own point.
- While small talk is not given priority, Americans are comfortable establishing common ground with new people. Be sure you have an understanding of American sport, culture and politics. Bear in mind that politics is currently deeply divisive in the USA. Be careful before voicing strong opinions; it’s better to play it safe.
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