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Business Etiquette in the UK

Cultural tips for business people visiting the UK.

The United Kingdom (UK) is comprised of four countries: England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland. It is important not only to be aware of these geographical distinctions but also the strong sense of identity and nationalism felt by the populations of these four countries. The terms 'English' and 'British' are not interchangeable. 'British' denotes someone who is from England, Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland. 'English' refers to people from England. People from Scotland are referred to as 'Scots'. People from England are not likely to take offence at being called "English", whereas a Welsh, Scots, or Northern Irish person will. Cultural Diversity Formerly a very homogenous society, since World War II, Britain has become increasingly diverse as it has accommodated large immigrant populations. The mixture of ethnic groups and cultures make it difficult to define British as looking or acting in one particular manner. People may sound British and retain the cultural heritage of their forefathers while others may become more British than someone who can trace his/her lineage to the 5th century. The fact that the nations favourite dish is now a curry sums up the cultural mish-mash that is modern day Britain. Doing business in the UK The British are rather formal. Many from the older generation still prefer to work with people and companies they know or who are known to their associates. Younger businesspeople do not need long-standing personal relationships before they do business with people and do not require an intermediary to make business introductions. Nonetheless, networking and relationship building are often key to long-term business success. Rank is respected and businesspeople prefer to deal with people at their level. If at all possible, include an elder statesman on your team as he/she will present the aura of authority that is necessary to good business relationships in many companies. British communication styles The British have an interesting mix of communication styles encompassing both understatement and direct communication. Many older businesspeople or those from the 'upper class' rely heavily upon formal use of established protocol. Most British are masters of understatement and do not use effusive language. If anything, they have a marked tendency to qualify their statements with such as 'perhaps' or 'it could be'. When communicating with people they see as equal to themselves in rank or class, the British are direct, but modest. If communicating with someone they know well, their style may be more informal, although they will still be reserved. Business meetings Punctuality is a very British trait. It is especially important in business situations. In most cases, the people you are meeting will be on time. Always call if you will be even 5 minutes later than agreed. If you are kept waiting a few minutes, do not make an issue of it. How meetings are conducted is often determined by the composition of people attending. If everyone is at the same level, there is generally a free flow of ideas and opinions. If there is a senior ranking person in the room, that person will do most of the speaking. In general, meetings will be rather formal and always have a clearly defined purpose, which may include an agenda. There will be a brief amount of small talk before getting down to the business at hand. If you make a presentation, avoid making exaggerated claims. Make certain your presentation and any materials provided appear professional and well thought out. Be prepared to back up your claims with facts and figures. The British rely on facts, rather than emotions, to make decisions. Maintain eye contact and a few feet of personal space. After a meeting, send a letter summarising what was decided and the next steps to be taken. Basic Etiquette Tips:

Business Dress * Business attire is conservative. * Men should wear a dark coloured, conservative business suit. * Women should wear either a business suit or a conservative dress. Greetings * Shake hands with everyone at a meeting upon arrival. * Maintain eye contact during the greeting. Titles * Only medical doctors and the clergy use their professional or academic titles in business. * Most people use the courtesy titles or Mr, Mrs or Miss and their surname. (Mr and Mrs are words in the United Kingdom and do not require a period after them as they are not abbreviations.) * If someone has been knighted, they are called 'Sir' followed by their first and surnames or 'Sir' followed simply by their first name. * Wait until invited before moving to a first-name basis. People under the age of 35 may make this move more rapidly than older British. Business Cards * Business cards are exchanged at the initial introduction without formal ritual. * The business card may be put away with only a cursory glance. Business Gifts * Business gift giving is not part of the business culture. * If you choose to give a gift, make certain it is small and tasteful. * Good gifts include desk accessories, a paperweight with your company logo, or a book about your home country. * Inviting someone out for a meal can be viewed as a gift.

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Background To Business in Britain


Ideas of 'jobs for life' have largely been overtaken by an expectation of rapid change in work patterns and prospects
As in many other industrialised countries, the last couple of decades have seen a major restructuring of British industry away from the more traditional heavy engineering and primary sectors towards the service and high-tech fields. This process has also coincided with radical shifts in approach to management and company structure. Many of the hierarchy and class issues which were so much a feature of the British industrial landscape have been replaced by more modern business models - often heavily influenced by US thinking. Ideas of 'jobs for life' have largely been overtaken by an expectation of rapid change in work patterns and prospects. Many current British managers no longer expect to spend most of their

careers with one or two companies, but rather looks for progression through moving from employer to employer. One result of this could be the much talked of British short-termism associated by many continental European business people with UK companies. Generalisation, rather than specialisation, tends to typify the British approach - with less merit being placed on pure technical ability than in some other countries. Some commentators have quoted this tendency as one of the reasons for the demise of manufacturing in the UK over the last three decades.

British Business Structures

The board of directors is the real power broker of a British company with all key decisions being made at this level. All plc's (quoted companies) must have at least two directors who are appointed by and accountable to the shareholders. The chairperson or the CEO leads the board. Many of the UK's larger companies have 'non-executive' directors who act as outside, impartial experts, as well as often providing links with government and the civil service. This usage of 'nonexecutive' directors has some parallels with the continental European two-tier system of senior management but is not as all-pervasive and 'non-execs' can be resented by the executive directors. Although traditionally hierarchical in structure, many British firms have moved towards a flatter, less bureaucratic approach. This has also resulted in a certain lack of shape, with boundaries and responsibilities being blurred. It can be difficult to get a clear picture of the structure of a British company, with even employees being unclear as to the exact remit of their jobs. As a result, job descriptions tend to be somewhat vague and imprecise with little clear guidance on specific tasks to be undertaken.

British Management Style

As has already been pointed out, British managers tend more towards generalisation than specialisation. The proposition that the manager needs to be the most technically competent person would receive little support in the UK. Therefore, pure academic education is afforded much less respect than in other countries (notably Germany and France) and the emphasis is on relevant experience and a 'hands-on', pragmatic approach. Titles such as doctor or professor are rarely used outside academic circles and can even be seen a sign of affectation. Much more emphasis is placed on the man-management skills needed to produce the best results from the team. A manager is expected to have the interpersonal skills to meld a team together and it is this ability as a 'fixer' which is highly regarded. Modern managers often want to appear as a primus inter pares, cultivating a close, often humorous and overtly soft relationship with subordinates. This seeming closeness should not, however, be mistaken for weakness on the part of the boss - when difficult decisions need to be taken, they will be taken. The British find it difficult to be direct and British managers often give instructions to subordinates in a very indirect way, preferring to request assistance than to be explicit. This use of language can be very confusing for the non-British (see 'Communication Styles' later.)

British Meetings
One thing that can be said of meetings in the UK is that they are frequent. They are often also inconclusive, with the decision of the meeting being that another meeting should be held. The British themselves often complain about the frequency and length of meetings they must attend. In comparison with many other cultures, relatively little preparation is done for meetings (with the exception of client-facing meetings). This is because meetings are often viewed as the forum for the open debate of an issue and that, during that open debate, a route forward will be found. When the route forward is agreed, then the detailed work schedule will be implemented. Being 'overprepared' for meetings in the UK can result in certain negative feelings towards those who have prepared in advance. "There is no point having a meeting with the Germans (for example) because they have already decided the outcome prior to the meeting." Agendas will be produced and followed loosely. If something important arises during the open debate it will not be excluded simply because it does not occur on the agenda. The British consider themselves to be punctual, but when pressed will admit to rarely arriving on time. It is now fairly common for people to arrive five to ten minutes late for meetings.

British Teams
The British like decisions to be made in a team environment and a good manager will work hard to ensure 'buy-in' from his or her team. The team environment aspires to being friendly and companionable with individuals within the team being seen to be supportive and helpful of each other. If, however, something goes wrong, it is not uncommon for the team to look for an individual within the team to blame. ('Blame culture' is something that seems to permeate working life and many organisations work hard to try to change this type of mentality.) Team members often bring with them into the team a certain level of specialisation, but are expected to take a generalist view of the project and their role within the project team. Being seen as a 'good all-rounder' is definitely positive.

British Communication Styles

The British are almost Asian in their use of diplomatic language. Almost alone in Europe, (with the possible exception of the Belgians), they strongly place diplomacy before directness in communication. Being very non-confrontational in business situations, the British equate directness with open confrontation and fear that bluntness will offend the other party. This can often lead the British to seem evasive in meeting situations when they are really searching for a way of saying something negative in a positive way. In addition to being diplomatic, the British also use language in a coded manner preferring to say unpalatable things using more acceptable, positive phrases. Thus, "I disagree" becomes "I think you have made several excellent points there but have you ever considered...." And a lack of interest in an idea is often greeted with,"Hmm, that's an interesting point." Humour is virtually all-pervasive in business situations. Indeed, the more tense and difficult a situation is, the more likely the British are to use humour. This does not imply that the British are not taking the situation seriously - it is merely that humour is used as a tension release mechanism in the UK and helps to keep situations calm, reserved and non-emotional. Never underestimate a British businessperson because he or she uses humour in a seemingly inappropriate situation.

Humour is a very important and respected communication tool at all levels and in all contexts. It is better to be self-deprecating than self-promotional in the UK. People who are verbally positive about themselves and their abilities may be disbelieved and will, almost definitely, be disliked.

Women in Business in Britain

Women make up a large percentage of the workforce - almost 50% - but are often found in low paid and part-time jobs. Statistics show that women are, on the whole, still paid less for performing the same tasks as male colleagues. On the other hand, women are more frequently found in managerial positions than in most other European countries and more and more women are reaching the very highest echelons of British business life. More female managers will be found in service and hi-tech industries than in the more traditional engineering sectors - this is largely due to the small number of women in the UK who graduate with technical degrees.

British Dress Code

Traditional dark grey and dark blue suits still tend to predominate. Suits are worn with white, blue or pink shirts and reasonably sober ties. In the more senior circles in the 'City', men will often wear cufflinks. Women in management positions often mirror male attire in so far as dark suits and blouses are worn - with little in the way of more flamboyant accessories being seen. There has, however, been a recent move away from this sober, formal appearance and many organisations have introduced a 'dress down' policy which allows employees to wear 'smart casual', as long as there are no clients to be met on that day. 'Smart casual' is difficult to describe but still tends to be on the conservative side. The climate in the UK can be very rainy, so it is always a good idea to carry a raincoat and/or an umbrella when visiting.

Successful Entertaining in Britain

It is reasonably common to be invited out for lunch by a business contact in the UK, but more unusual to be asked to go for dinner. Business lunches are often seen as an extension of the meeting and it is usually acceptable to discuss business matters over the food. If in doubt over this matter, follow the lead of your host.The person who invites will invariably pay and there is no real need to offer to contribute to the cost. If you have invited a guest and they offer to contribute, they are probably doing so out of politeness and do not necessarily expect to be taken up on their offer. Lunches can vary in style from a very informal pub meal to a much more elaborate formal meal at an expensive restaurant. The choice of venue can depend on a number of factors such as location, importance placed on the business opportunity (or guest), market sectors etc. If you are unsure where to take somebody it is best to err on the side of caution and go to a good quality restaurant. Alcohol will usually be offered at lunch and some British business people will accept whilst others prefer to stick to soft drinks this is an entirely personal decision and you will not be under pressure to drink alcohol in this situation. It is much more common for larger amounts of alcohol to be drunk at dinner and on these occasions you may find that you are placed under a small amount of pressure to join in the drinking culture.

Most restaurants add a service charge to the bill automatically, but it is still customary to give an additional tip of around 10% directly to the waiter. Tip 1 British companies tend to develop managers to be 'generalists' rather than 'specialists' and managers are expected to be interested in, and take a view on, a wide number of topic areas.

Tip 2 Recent years have seen a change in working patterns with many people moving job and employer on a reasonably frequent basis.

Tip 3 British organisations have moved away from the traditional hierarchical models of the past towards a much flatter system. In the process, many layers of management have been removed.

Tip 4 Job descriptions in the UK are often very unclear and imprecise leaving a potential vacuum in ownership of task and decision.

Tip 5 Managers try to develop a close, friendly relationship with staff and like to be seen as part of the team rather than removed from the team.

Tip 6 The value of pure academic education is viewed with some suspicion. Respect is earned through experience rather than qualification. It is rare to see a professor or doctor on the senior management committee of a large UK company.

Tip 7 Managers find it difficult to articulate direct instructions and will often couch instructions in very diplomatic language.

Tip 8 There are a lot of meetings in the UK and they often fail to produce the desired decision.

Tip 9 The British do less empirical preparation for meetings than other nationalities - seeing the meeting as a forum for debating potential solutions.

Tip 10 Meetings are reasonably formally structured, roughly following a predetermined agenda and keeping more or less to time.

Tip 11 The British like to be part of a team and like the team to have a companionable atmosphere.

Tip 12 Members of a team are expected to take an holistic interest in the project, rather than confining themselves to their allocated role only.

Tip 13 The British place diplomacy firmly before directness and will try to avoid engendering negative emotions in meeting situations etc.

Tip 14 The British can misinterpret direct speech as rudeness, aggression and arrogance.

Tip 15 Humour is acceptable and expected in virtually all business situations. Humour is not seen as unprofessional, even when used in tense and difficult meetings.

Tip 16 Self-promotion is not appreciated in the UK. It is far better to self-deprecate. It is, of course, acceptable to be positive about your company and products.

Tip 17 Meetings will often begin with a good amount of seemingly meaningless small talk. This is seen as a good way to start the meeting in a harmonious manner.

Tip 18 Women play an increasingly prominent role in business life especially in service industries.

Tip 19 Formal dress codes of dark blue and grey suits are still predominant although changes are starting to occur in this area.

Tip 20 Colleagues will virtually always use first names amongst themselves. It is considered very formal and distancing to use surnames.


United Kingdom
England is one of four distinct regions of the United Kingdom, which also includes Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland. Englands population is approximately 47 million. It is important to note that the Scots, Welsh, and Irish are not English, and are often offended when referred to as such. Additionally, citizens of the U.K. do not consider themselves European. Unfortuantely, they are usually grouped as such, due in part to their membership in the European Union. The English are very proud of their heritage and history. Along with their contributions to the world of today, several famous writers came from England. Some of the most famous are Shakespeare, T.S. Eliot, and Chaucer. This century, England has seen many influential daughters and sons. The Beatles, Winston Churchill, and Queen Elizabeth II have all played a tremendous role in Englands presence in the modern world.

Fun Fact
Gambling is very popular in Britain. The British buy more lottery tickets than any other people in the world. It has been estimated that 75% of adults in Britain play the lottery at least once a week.

Geert Hofstede Analysis Great Britain

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The Geert Hofstede analysis for England illustrates their strong feelings towards individualism and masculinity. The power distance and uncertainty avoidance are ranked considerably lower than the first two. Long-term orientation ranks the lowest, indicating that change in England can be achieved more rapidly than in many other countries . More Details

Religion in the United Kingdom


In analyzing Predominantly Christian countries, the primary correlation between religion and the Geert Hofstede Dimensions is a high Individualism (IDV) ranking. This indicates that predominantly Christian countries have a strong belief in individuality, with individual rights being paramount within the society. Individuals in these countries may tend to form a larger number of looser relationships. (See accompanying Article)

Business attire rules are somewhat relaxed in England, but conservative dress is still very important for both men and women. Dark suits, usually black, blue, or gray, are quite acceptable. Men's shirts should not have pockets; if they do, the pockets should always be kept empty. Additionally, men should wear solid or patterned ties, while avoiding striped ties. Men wear laced shoes, not loafers. Businesswomen are not as limited to colors and styles as men are, though it is still important to maintain a conservative image.

Always be punctual in England. Arriving a few minutes early for safety is acceptable. Decision-making is slower in England than in the United States; therefore it is unwise to rush the English into making a decision. A simple handshake is the standard greeting (for both men and women) for business occasions and for visiting a home. Privacy is very important to the English. Therefore asking personal questions or intensely staring at another person should be avoided. Eye contact is seldom kept during British conversations. To signal that something is to be kept confidential or secret, tap your nose. Personal space is important in England, and one should maintain a wide physical space when conversing. Furthermore, it is considered inappropriate to touch others in public. Gifts are generally not part of doing business in England. A business lunch will often be conducted in a pub and will consist of a light meal and perhaps a pint of ale. When socializing after work hours, do not bring up the subject of work. When dining out, it is not considered polite to toast those who are older than yourself.

"America and Britain are two nations divided by a common language " George Bernard was once quoted as saying. In England, English is the official language, but it should be noted that Queens English and American English are very different. Often times ordinary vocabulary can differ between the two countries. Loud talking and disruptive behavior should be avoided. One gesture to avoid is the V for Victory sign, done with the palm facing yourself. This is a very offensive gesture. If a man has been knighted, he is addressed as "Sir and his first name" example: Sir John. If writing a letter, the envelope is addressed "Sir First name and Last name" example: Sir John Roberts.


Doing Busines s in the UK| British Social and Busines s Culture

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A British Culture Overview Official name United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland Population 60, 609, 153* Official Languages English, Welsh (about 26% of the population of Wales), Scottish Gaelic (about 60,000 in Scotland) Currency Pound sterling Capital City London (Wales: Cardiff, Scotland: Edinburgh, Northern Ireland: Belfast) GDP purchasing power parity $1.903 trillion* GDP Per Capita purchasing power parity $31,400*

Overview The United Kingdom is a nation of cultural and ethnic diversity consisting of four countries each with a clear identity: England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland. A thoroughly multicultural society, the UK continues to blend its rich cultural heritage with a modern and innovative outlook. Knowledge and an appreciation of the basic cultural, ethical and business values of the UK is crucial to any organisation wanting to conduct business in such a varied yet traditional country. British Culture - Key Concepts and values Indirectness The British, in particular the English, are renowned for their politeness and courtesy. This is a key element of British culture and is a fundamental aspect of British communication style. When doing business in the UK you generally find that direct questions often receive evasive responses and conversations may be ambiguous and full of subtleties. Consequently, it is important to pay attention to tone of voice and facial expression, as this may be an indication of what is really meant. Stiff upper lip This is a term often used to describe the traditionally British portrayal of reserve and restraint when faced with difficult situations. In British culture, open displays of emotion, positive or negative are rare and should be avoided. During meetings, this means your British colleagues will approach business with an air of formality and detachment. Humour A vital element in all aspects of British life and culture is the renowned British sense of humour. The importance of humour in all situations, including business contexts, cannot be overestimated. Humour is frequently used as a defence mechanism, often in the form of self-depreciation or irony. It can be highly implicit and in this sense is related to the British indirect communication style.

Doing Business in the UK The United Kingdom is renowned for its colourful history and strong sense of tradition that has been shaped by a colonial empire, both civil and European war and a constitutional monarchy. The fourth largest trading nation, the UK is fast becoming Europes leading business centre. Supported by a long-established system of government and economic stability, the UK is an attractive base for overseas business, offering skills in areas such as research, development and technology. However, in order to operate successfully in the UK business environment, there are a number of important issues to take into consideration both before and during your time there. UK Business Part 1 - Working in the UK (Pre-departure)

Working practices in the UK o In accordance with British business protocol, punctuality is essential at any business meeting or social event o When making business appointments it is best practice to do so several days in advance. o The British are inclined to follow established rules and practices; therefore decision-making is often a slow and systematic process. Structure and hierarchy in UK companies o Today, UK businesses maintain relatively flat organisational hierarchies. The principal divide is between managers and other ranks. o In general, the board of directors is the principal decision-making unit. Major decisions are made at the very top. o The British prefer to work in the security of a group-established order with which they can identify. Working relationships in the UK o UK managers generally favour the establishment of good working relationships with their subordinates. o The boss often takes the role of a coach, creating an atmosphere of support and encouragement. o Teamwork is very important, however there exists a strong feeling of individual accountability for implementation and error.

UK Business Part 2 - Doing business in the UK

Business practices in the UK o Business meetings in the UK are often structured but not too formal and begin and end with social conversation. o First names are used almost immediately with all colleagues. Exceptions are very senior managers. However, you should always wait to be invited to use first names before doing so yourself. o Business cards are an essential prop and are usually exchanged. o Negotiations and decisions are usually open and flexible. Your British counterparts will favour a win/win approach.

British business etiquette (Do's and Don'ts)

DO respect personal space. The British value their space and keeping an acceptable distance is advised. DO remember to shake hands on first meetings. It is considered polite to do so. DO make direct eye-contact with your British counterpart, however remember to keep it to a minimum or it could be considered impolite or rude. DONT ask personal questions regarding your British counterparts background, occupation or income. DONT underestimate the importance of humour in all aspect of business in the UK. DONT forget that instructions are often disguised as polite requests.

British Culture Quiz - true or false

1. 2. 3. 4. 5.

In accordance with British business etiquette, when entering a room allow those of a higher rank to enter first. It is considered polite to enquire about an individuals profession and salary during an initial meeting in the UK. In the UK the number 13 is considered extremely unlucky. When invited to an English home, it is customary to arrive at least 10-20 minutes before the arranged time. Sitting with folded arms during a business meeting is a sign of boredom and that you are uninterested.

Answers 1. 2. 3. 4. 5. True. It is important to respect rank in the UK. False. Asking about anothers salary in the UK is particularly offensive and should never be done. True. False. Never arrive early. It is advised to arrive 10-20 minutes after the stated time when visiting someones home. True.

In theory, official working hours are normally 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Monday to Friday . In practice, most employees work considerably longer hours; many will be at their desks by 8:30 a.m. and executives rarely leave before 7:00 p.m. Professionals like lawyers and consultants may not arrive before 9:30 a.m. but, on the other hand, they may not leave the office until the following day. Government offices close for lunch between 1:00 p.m. and 2:00 p.m. but stay open until 5:30 p.m. Appointments should be made at least a few days in advance and, ideally, confirmed on arrival in the UK. Most British businessmen are not so jealous of their diaries that they will decline to meet a visitor even at relatively short notice. Grander members of the so-called 'Establishment', however, may have uncooperative PAs to shield them, whilst jet-setting entrepreneurs may be genuinely too busy. Cold calling is not appreciated. It is best to avoid July and August when those with children are almost obliged to take their annual vacation. Easter is also popular for holidaying and there are two Bank Holidays in May that may catch the unwary visitor [especially in a year when Easter falls in late April]. UK industry closes almost completely between Christmas and New Year. The easiest times of day to arrange an appointment are probably mid-morning (say 11:00 a.m.) and mid-afternoon (say 4:00 p.m.). Breakfast meetings are rare outside London and other major cities and it is unlikely that an initial meeting will involve lunch (or dinner). Punctuality is appreciated but no one really minds if you arrive a little late (up to 15 minutes) for a one-to-one meeting. On the other hand, you should not arrive too promptly for social events - but aim to arrive a respectable fifteen minutes after the specified time; thus, if a dinner invitation states '7:30 p.m. for 8:00 p.m.', it means that you will be expected at about 7:50 p.m.