Today, UK businesses are very different from 20 years ago.
However, there is still some hierarchy in British firms, with a distinctive difference between the status of Executives and managers, with most executives having secretaries. But contrary to many articles you’ll read about the Brits and their working practices, they have become much more egalitarian with flatter organisational structures. And, NO! bowler hats and pinstripe suits are rarely seen…

The British like to work in teams and identify with personal commitment to a group. Individual initiatives are generally taken following a group consensus to proceed. However, there is also a strong feeling of individual accountability for implementation.  Most managers aspire to be effective, decisive and above all ‘fair’. Fairness in relationships is more important than closeness (the Brits overriding value system lies in the concept of ‘fair play’).

Meetings start on time and conclude on time. A meeting without a concrete decision or result is seen as a ‘waste of time’.  Unlike many other cultures, meetings are generally informal in style and begin and end with social conversation.  Participants are expected to make a contribution, not necessarily just in their own specialist area. Opinions are encouraged and listened to.  Advance papers may not have been read thoroughly before the meeting (unlike the French, German and Finns).

Although English is spoken all over the world, many cultures need an interpreter to understand if the British are saying “Yes”. Wanting always to be polite and to have time to think, a standard business response is, “We’ll think about it” or “How interesting”. Communication is open, somewhat indirect, impersonal and detailed. It can be contradictory; but it should never be personal. Northern Europeans often fail to understand the true meaning of British communication as it is not as direct as theirs. Humour is frequently used as a defence mechanism, often in the form of self-depreciation or irony and can become quite sarcastic during disagreements or arguments.

Presentations are structured and formal, but usually have an element of humour. Nowadays, an element of entertainment is expected.  Understatement is very common. Brits hate over emphasis (hyperbole), they see it as boastful and pushy. Sometimes Brits appear less enthusiastic than they really are. Don’t give British people a ‘hard sell’ or what they refer to as an ‘American sell’. They dislike it, seeing it as manipulative and pushy.  They’ll walk away. The audience will expect to ask questions at the end.

Best tip for working with the British: beware of the ‘stiff upper lip’ which gives the British the appearance of formality and detachment, they traditionally use this when faced with difficult situations.

Dr Deborah Swallow is a leading authority on intercultural communication and international business practices. Follow the links for further information on her seminars, conference speaking or advice on cultural differences.

Related articles:

Cultural Understanding and British Values

Doing Business in 15 European Countries

Posted via email from The World At Work

Tags: , , ,

This entry was posted on Wednesday, June 2nd, 2010 at 12:45 pm and is filed under Europe, General . You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

Comments are closed.