How To Conduct Business In The United States
Americans conduct business differently than many other countries. What is and is not appropriate can vary by company and region. Understanding the overall business culture of the United States, though, can help you create lasting business relationships with American companies.
How To Dress
In the United States, business attire varies greatly based on geographic region, industry and the day of the week. If possible, you can ask ahead of time what style of clothing is appropriate, but if that is not an option, dressing conservatively is always a safe choice. Women should wear suits, dresses or skirts. Men should wear a business suit in black, grey or navy with a tie.
After the initial meeting, you will have a better grasp on clothing options. Many companies have Casual Friday, and some high technology companies allow casual clothing every day.
Understanding The Cultural Differences
America is a nation of immigrants, dubbed a melting pot due to its variety of cultures. Built on a foundation of hard work and the notion that “anything is possible,” The United States of America claims a culture unique and different than any other country.
Informal But Direct Communication
Overall, conversation is informal and friendly. Greetings are casual; anything from a handshake to a simple smile and “hello” will suffice. Most businessmen and women will let you call them by their first names. If you are unsure, wait for an invitation to call them by their first name, which will likely happen quickly. If using titles, call them by their professional title or if they lack a professional title, use Mr., Mrs., or Ms. If you are unsure of a woman’s marital status, always use Ms. as her title.
Most Americans are direct. They prefer linear thinking and straightforward speaking. When conducting business with Americans, get to your point quickly, be direct and be honest. Rather than meet face-to-face, Americans will conduct business over the phone or through email. It is not necessary that Americans get to know their business partners on a personal level.
Time Is Money
Americans tend to live fast-paced lives where time is money. Make sure you are on time for any meetings or appointments. If you are late, your potential business partners will view your tardiness as a sign of disrespect. Meetings may begin with a little small talk, but typically Americans jump into the business at hand immediately.
Value your business partner’s time. If you begin wasting it in their eyes, you’re in jeopardy of destroying your business relationship.
Americans pride themselves on their individual accomplishments. Success and failure are based on each person’s actions and what they have personally accomplished rather than what their family or community has done.
Meetings may feel relaxed, but they are taken very seriously. If an agenda is presented, everyone will follow it. When presenting information to Americans, use statistics, hard data and visual elements. Most Americans expect evidence before making any decisions.
Business is conducted quickly. Often, agreements will be made during the initial meeting because the main goal is to sign a contract, not build a relationship. A relationship between you and your new partners may start to grow after a business agreement has been made.
Handshakes may be exchanged before or after the meeting. This is also when business cards can be exchanged. Typically, business cards are placed in wallets and then into back pockets, so do not feel offended if an American businessman puts your card there.
Business may be conducted over meals, although this time is often more for socializing. American business partners may invite you to a restaurant, their home or some other public place. Social events often occur casually at homes and in backyards. Wherever you are invited to, arrive no later than ten minutes past the established time. Punctuality is important, even for casual and social events.
Table manners are more casual than other areas in the world. Typically, a fork is help in the right hand, but Americans will not be offended if you prefer your left. You’re also able to politely refuse any food or drink without offering an explanation. In homes, food is served family-style, where each person helps themselves from larger bowls and pans in the center of the table. Avoid resting your elbows on the table, keep your napkin in your lap, and only begin eating when the host starts or says to begin.
Gifts are not required in business deals. Many companies have strict rules and regulations about their employees receiving gifts. If you choose to give your business partner a gift, make sure it is not viewed as a bribe. A thank-you note is enough to show your appreciation.
If you are visiting someone in their home for a business dinner, a bottle of wine or bouquet of flowers is an acceptable gift to give the host.