10 tips for doing business in the USA

Introduction to American business culture

You’ll make a good first impression in the USA by appearing confident, open, friendly and direct. A firm handshake, sustained eye contact, a clear expression of opinions and an alert posture will show that you’re interested and capable, although ultimately, you will be judged on the results you deliver.

Infographic: Top 10 business etiquette insights – USA

Foreigners are expected to assimilate themselves into American culture and certainly to speak English. Americans are not xenophobic, but many people have never travelled 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.

While Americans are not big on combining work with private life, or exchanging pleasantries at meetings, it helps to have an understanding of American culture, politics and sport for small talk. Politics is not seen as an appropriate topic for conversation in business situations (although among friends, it’s fine). Unlike Europe, where business people openly criticise politicians and policies as part of healthy debate, discussions on political views rarely happen in the American workplace. Be careful, too, when talking about the Gulf war and Iraq, or the situation in Israel, as opinions are divided.

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Top 10 tips on American business culture

Here are 10 essential tips for making a good impression when doing business in the USA:

  1. Adopt a can-do attitude. A willingness to innovate and embrace risk is appreciated, as is a practical, problem-solving approach.
  2. Look the part. Dress neatly, use a firm handshake, make eye contact and appear confident to earn respect.
  3. Respect diversity. All Americans expect to be treated equally and are entitled to this by law.
  4. Communicate clearly. Avoid nuance and spell everything out very clearly, even if it feels patronising to do so. Americans have a very explicit communication style.
  5. Be decisive. Don’t waste time; Americans like to see quick results and like decisions to be made quickly.
  6. Be accountable. Individuals are accountable for their actions, even when working as part of a team.
  7. Keep it informal. American companies tend to have flat structures, with colleagues on first-name terms. Visitors are treated in the same way.
  8. Impress with your presentation. Although Americans expect hard facts and clear results, they appreciate a slick presentation, delivered with confidence and professionalism.
  9. Be on time. Always be punctual for meetings. Being late is perceived as being rude.
  10. Skip the small talk. Expect to engage in only the briefest exchange of chat before a meeting. Americans like to get down to business fast and the relationship with a company, rather than an individual, is what matters.

Do you regularly work across cultures? Would you like to overcome cultural differences, improve your ability to communicate and influence with colleagues and clients from other cultures?

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american business culture

About the Author

Terence Brake

Terence Brake is an author in the global learning & development field and has over 20 years experience helping executives to work better across cultures.

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