Do You Speak American ?

7 Tips to Interact the American Way

Hi mate! Are you thinking about settling down in the US soon? Or did you already booked your tickets? Great, congrats.  But, are you sure you’re ready to go?
I’m talking about the American Business Culture, and my friend, it’s not a piece of cake. Watching all the seasons of Friends and MadMen is not enough to understand how to talk to Americans, especially in the workplace.

The US are built on different cultural bases, and this article might help you avoid some mistakes and misunderstandings.

Tip #1: Time is Money

Time can be saved, found, lost, spent, invested or wasted, thus efficiency and punctuality are highly rewarded in the United States. In meetings and negotiations, great emphasis is put on getting the best results in the quickest amount of time. A typical first meeting will last max 45 min. Watch out the time!

Also comply with the “24h Rule” : after meeting it’s mandatory to send a thank you note within 24 hours. Same thing with emails: even if you don’t have the answer to a question, let your contact know within 24 hours that you’re on top of it.

Tip #2: Put on your “Happy Face”

When you meet someone new, a good handshake and a smile are expected. Better, show your confidence and sincerity by looking at the person directly in the eyes. And remember not to do your traditional kiss on both cheeks ! Americans need their bubble of personal space.

Tip #3: Stay Informal but Professional

Americans are rather informal in their interactions, in the way they address each other or the way they dress. They call each other by their first names, however, if you don’t know what to wear for a meeting, remember that it’s better to be slightly overdressed rather than underdressed.

Beware: although they are informal, they are not your best friends. So beware and remain professional.

Tip #4: Learn how to “Small Talk”

You will hear “How are you doing?”, but careful the expected answer is “Fine thank you!”. Americans don’t expect you to explain all the little details of your digestive problems. Before the meeting, it’s routine to partake in what is called “small talk”. It’s seen as a means to disengage tension and to create a positive and comfortable atmosphere before the “Big Business”. Similarly, don’t follow up if you hear “Let’s do lunch some time” when saying goodbye. It’s another courtesy formula that is not to be taken seriously.

Typical subjects for a good small talk would be about hobbies and leisure, tips concerning local arts and entertainment, or dining and nightlife, and popular US sports teams.

Tip #5: Be “Straight To The Point”

What is striking in the American business conversations is their direct style. They are friendly, but always get straight to the point. The point of talking in the United States is to exchange information, facts, and opinions. Thus, you need to be clear and say directly what you have in mind.

Tip #6: Be Nimble and Adapt

1. The laconic East-Coaster

Getting right to the point means also short answers, so don’t be offended by receiving a simple “yes” or “no”. They just want to save time and money, and they expect you to give your opinion too.

2. The ghost West-Coaster

On the other hand, we should also mention a particular situation: the “Californian No”. Californian would rather avoid saying “no” openly and thus always postpone their answers.

3. The chatty American

Finally, Americans try their best to avoid period of silence. They would rather keep on talking, so don’t hesitate to break silences.

Tip #7: Make Jokes and Talk Sport

Americans use a lot of expressions about sports : “the ball is in your court now (the decision is all yours), if you make a game plan (if you develop a strategy), you won’t drop the ball (you won’t make a mistake) and support the wrong horse! (and make the wrong decision)”. In that single sentence I inserted tennis, american football, baseball and horse racing expressions!

You should maybe read some before attending a meeting!

Now, spread your wings, fly away and send me a postcard!

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