10 tips for doing business in the UK

Introduction to British business culture

Be prepared for a strange mix of open, friendly people who can also appear uptight and reserved, and who often say the opposite to what they really mean. Trying to emulate this probably won’t work, but being prepared not to take the British too literally does help.

Infographic: Top 10 business etiquette insights – UK

Don’t make a gushing and effusive presentation. A lively presentation is good, but the British do not trust anybody too sugary – they will hold them in suspicion instead. The same goes for boasting about one’s credentials, or the opposite extreme of apologising for everything, which will make the British feel uncomfortable.

Dress smartly but with individuality. A garish or ironic tie is not out of place in many environments.

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Top 10 tips on British business culture

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

  1. Value privacy. Avoid asking too many personal questions about things such as salary, and background. The British value privacy, at least initially and are less direct than, say, Germans or Spaniards.
  2. Expect humour. There will be humour, even in the workplace. This may be ironic, self-deprecating, sarcastic or cynical.
  3. Prepare to work hard. Expect to work long hours and for work/ leisure boundaries to merge.
  4. Be alert to communication style. The British communication style can be confusing for those used to a more direct approach and often means the opposite to what is implied, for example, ‘With respect’ is a polite way of saying ‘I really don’t agree with you at all’.
  5. Avoid Confrontation. The British find confrontation embarrassing and awkward, so encourage harmony when possible.
  6. Expect fair play. The British have a strong sense of fair play so do not appreciate excessive bargaining, changing a deal once agreed upon or going behind a person’s back.
  7. Embrace diversity. Britain is a multicultural society with strict equality laws, although there are still imbalances, from a lack of women at board level to a lack of ethnic minorities represented in popular culture.
  8. Socialise outside work. Expect to socialise. After work drinking in a local pub is common. Your colleagues will evaluate you as much here as in the work environment.
  9. Expect a relatively informal workplace. The British workplace is becoming increasingly informal, with a flat hierarchical structure. First names are used quickly, dress codes have been relaxed and the manager is seen more as a coach who empowers others to make decisions and implement change.
  10. Be prepared for moderation. The British are conservative. Avoid shouting, which will be viewed with distaste. Avoid boasting and hard selling; this will be viewed with distrust. Do not interpret a detached manner as indifference, the British do tend to be reserved initially.

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

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british 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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