Britain is arguably characterized by more stereotypes than any other nation: red phone boxes, warm beer, Beefeaters, black cabs. And its people, with their stiff upper lip and mysterious class system.
Needless to say, many of these are either obsolete or on the edge of obscurity as old traditions make way for new technology and multiculturalism. But how do you make a good impression if you want to do business with enigmatic Brits? Here are our top ten tips.
- Understand the obtuse methods of communication. British people will often say the exact opposite of what they mean, partly in jest, partly to avoid seeming rude. So if somebody says ‘That’s quite a good idea’ they probably mean that it’s not a good idea at all. Any sentence beginning ‘with respect’ means that the person completely disagrees with you. Humor will be often used to defuse an uncomfortable situation. Confrontation is generally avoided.
- The British work some of the longest hours in Europe and many companies allow a certain machismo about who puts in the most time. Do not be surprised if a contact wants to meet very early, or after work. Many people are simply too busy during the day, or believe they are. Many are genuinely under pressure, so always be on time for appointments.
- The British have a strong sense of fair play. Deals should not be reneged on. Excessive haggling is seen as unseemly and a way of wasting time by playing games. Prepare to make concessions in negotiations and aim for a win-win outcome.
- Come across as modest rather than boastful; people who behave in an over-confident manner are likely to be met with a raised eyebrow, or seen as possibly covering up some other inadequacy. Respect the British love of privacy. It is inappropriate to ask someone how much they earn, for example, or their age, or to comment on their appearance.
- Focus hard on customer service. The British consumer has extremely high standards and expectations – and will not hesitate to take to social media if service is seen to fall short. Avoid the hard sell; people tend to look for a reason to say ‘no’ so craft your pitch with care and be sure to know your market.
- British businesses believe in empowering their staff and seek to encourage the collective ‘ownership’ of challenges among their employees. This means that while personal accountability is required, collective responsibility is also expected from subordinates. Structures in companies are flat, so do not be surprised if you are dealing with someone relatively junior.
- The ability to ‘wing it’ in business is much admired; Brits like someone who can think on their feet, respond quickly to changing situations and show leadership in times of stress. Many of the most respected leaders in business are charismatic entrepreneurs and all of them have an impressive personal story. The more unusual a route to the top, the better.
- Manners and demeanor make a good impression. Brits are inherently polite, especially the older generation, so don’t bark orders or push in queues. Respect cultural differences, especially in London, which is a melting pot with many different influences and faiths. Dress smartly but fashionably; most companies (less so in the financial sector) have a relaxed dress code and it is acceptable for individuals to express themselves sartorially, within reason.
- British workers let off steam with an after work drink in the pub. Make the most of these opportunities for building relationships; drinking with colleagues is a way of showing that you are part of the team. Relationships are important and should be cultivated, although the British can be fairly brutal in terminating a deal if results are not achieved, however strong the friendship.
- Brits tend to be open and friendly and enjoy a good debate. The country is divided over many issues – Brexit, government, welfare, the National Health Service, immigration, terrorism – but few subjects are genuinely taboo. You will need to observe political correctness, though, and to maintain a sense of humor if you want to join the conversation. Being a good listener, rather than delivering your view in a monologue, is important.
For more information on developing cultural awareness, click here.
Our infographic on Great Britain will provide you with a snapshot of the essential things you need to know in order to foster better working relationships with the British, as well as key data and some fun facts about the country. View and share your infographic on British business etiquette by clicking here.