Understanding Business Culture in the USA
American Business Culture is different from many other Countries around the world in the following ways:
Regional Subcultures. There are a number of differences within these regions including cuisine, history, commodities, prevalent industries, political tendencies, and natural topography. As a result, many Americans take pride in the region and/or state where they are from.
Regional Business Subcultures. Many stereotypes exist about people from these different regions. In general, Southerners are known for their 'Southern Hospitality,' showing a great level of consideration and warmth for business counterparts. The West Coast is known for a more casual, informal approach to business while the East Coast is often considered the more formal and sometimes conservative counterpart in terms of dress and conduct. Expect many exceptions to these generalizations.
Individual Business Cultures. Regional background should be taken into account when learning about American businesses. Individual factors including industry, business structure, management, and business mission also play a strong role in shaping an individual business culture. Those wishing to do extensive business within one region in the US are well-advised to spend some time researching that area in particular. Those wishing to do business with specific companies should invest additional time researching individual business culture through corporate literature, marketing, and websites.
Prior appointments are always necessary. Turning up unsolicited is frowned upon
People in the United States write the month first, then the day, then the year [i.e., December 5, 2006 is written 12/5/06].
Punctuality is very important for business occasions. In many U.S. cities, traffic can cause considerable delays, so be sure to allow enough driving time to your appointment. If you know that you will be late, call to let your contact know.
For a first meeting, you cannot go wrong if you dress conservatively. Afterwards, you may want to follow the example of your American counterparts.
In U.S. business culture, dress tends to vary. In some parts of the country--the east in particular--most people wear business suits. In other areas, such as the west coast, a more relaxed approach to dressing is the norm in many workplaces. Executives in most regions of the country, however, usually dress quite formally.
Business suits or dresses are often the standard attire for women. Pantsuits, in classic styles, are also acceptable. Accessorizing, which adds flair to even very simple outfits, is also practiced here.
Business Language - almost all business is conducted in English in the United States.
Spanish is another common language due to the United States' proximity to Mexico and Central America and the large population of Spanish-speaking individuals in the country. However, English will still be used almost 100% for business deals.
American business language is also very idiomatic. Many Americans adopt sports terms in their business speech ["Touch base," "Ballpark figures," "Call the shots," "Team players," and "Game plan" are a few examples.] Many Americans may not be aware that they are using these idioms because they seem so natural.
If language becomes a barrier, ask for clarification and seek understanding. If you are not totally comfortable speaking and doing business in English, hire a translator.
Compliments are exchanged frequently and are popular "conversation starters." If you wish to make conversation with someone, you can compliment an item such as his or her clothing or a work or sports related achievement.
Generally, Americans like to laugh and enjoy being with people who have a sense of humor. Jokes are usually welcome, but be careful. In all situations, ethnic and religious humor should be avoided. Self-deprecating humor, however, usually goes over well.
Topics to Avoid
1. Until you know a person well, avoid discussing religion, politics or other controversial subjects [i.e., abortion, racism, sexism].
2. Ethnic or religious jokes
3. Business gifts are often presented after the deal is closed.
During the Holiday season [late November through the first week of January], gifts are exchanged. For your business associates, you can give gifts such as useful items for the office, liquor or wine. Choose gifts with no religious connotations [i.e. don't buy Christmas ornaments], unless you are certain of the religious background of your associates. While Christmas is the dominant celebration, and is widely commercialized during this period, people may be celebrating many other holidays during this period [i.e. Hanukkah, Kwanzaa].
This culture stresses individual initiative and achievement. Moreover, Americans can also be competitive in both work and leisure.
The concept "time is money" is taken seriously in U.S. business culture. Businesspeople are used to making up their minds quickly and decisively. They value information that is straightforward and to the point.
In the USA, money is a key priority and an issue that will be used to win most arguments. Status, protocol, and national honor play a smaller role. Similarly, "saving face" and other social niceties and formalities that are vitally important to other cultures are not as important in the United States.
American business people are opportunistic and willing to take chances. Opportunism and risk taking often result in Americans going for the biggest possible slice of the business, 100% if possible.
Americans tend to dislike periods of silence during negotiations and in conversations, in general. They may continue to speak simply to avoid silence.
Businesspeople are very direct and will not hesitate to disagree with you. This communication style often causes embarrassment to business travelers who are unaccustomed to dealing with Americans or direct communication in general.
Persistence is another characteristic you will frequently encounter in American businesspeople; there is a prevailing belief that there is always a solution. Moreover, they will explore all options when negotiations are at an impasse.
Consistency is common among American business people: when they agree to a deal, they rarely change their minds.
Americans tend to be future oriented. Therefore, innovation often takes precedence over tradition.
The USA is the most litigious society in the world. There are lawyers who specialize in practically every industry and segment of society. There are many laws associated with being an Immigrant or on a visa status. Always follow the laws relating to your visa or permit in the USA to avoid ending up in illegal status.
Usually, business is conducted at an extremely fast pace.
Often, American businesspeople try to extract an oral agreement at the first meeting. However, U.S. salespeople sometimes bring final contracts to first meetings with prospective clients. In large firms, contracts under $10,000 can often be approved by one middle manager in a single meeting.
Compared with many cultures, the United States is moving forward rapidly and successfully with its unique diversity. Expect to work with women and people of different ethnic backgrounds, religions, and cultures in the workplace at all levels and positions.
Do not assume, for example, that a woman present in the meeting will be responsible for handling coffee. She may very well be leading the meeting and the person who will make the final decision. Treat everyone with respect and dignity to ensure a successful trip.
Many people in the United States have a limited knowledge of cultures beyond their own country and its own diverse subcultures. Some Americans may assume that their way is the "correct" or only way.
Business culture can vary greatly from company to company, because of America's diversity. Learn as much about the business culture of your foreign associates before meeting with them through their website, marketing materials, and business literature.
There are a number of other factors to consider when conducting business in America. However, the above outline gives you a good indication of what to be aware of and what to avoid.
Remember, what is common in your country might not be very common in the USA. Be respectful and courteous all the times, and you will have great success