Cultural tips: USA

Business and negotiation characteristics of Americans

  • The Americans’ business philosophy is uncomplicated. Their aim is to make as much money as they can as quickly as they can, using hard work, speed, opportunism, power and money itself as the means towards this end.
  • They are individualistic. They like to go it alone without checking with Head Office. 
  • They immediately introduce informality; take their jacket off, use first names, discuss personal details, e.g. family.
  • The American gives the impression of being naive by not speaking anything but English and by showing immediate trust through ultra-friendliness.
  • They use humour whenever possible. Accept their sarcasm, irony and kidding.
  • They put their cards on the table right from the start. Then proceed on an offer and counter-offer basis, often having difficulty when the other side doesn’t let them know what they want.
  • Americans are not averse to taking risks and are hard-sellers; you often have to match this. 
  • They consider most proposals on an investment/return or investment/time scale basis. Remember time is always money, so they like simplification of issues and get irritated with what they see as unnecessary complications.
  • The American tries to extract an oral agreement at the first meeting and wants to shake hands on it. They are not willing to go into great detail unless they are sure of a deal. Settle for the grand outline first, but check the fine print subsequently.
  • Americans don’t like silence during negotiations. They are used to making up their minds fast and often lack patience, saying provoking things to get things moving.
  • They are opportunistic – quick to take chances. The history of the U.S. presented many golden opportunities to those who grabbed fastest. Opportunism and risk-taking often result in Americans going for the biggest possible slice of business. 
  • Don’t be afraid to talk about problems openly and remember nothing is impossible in the United States. They believe there is always a solution through persistence. 
  • They put everything in words. When they use ‘fair’, ‘democratic’, ‘honest’, ‘good deal’, ‘value’, ‘assume’, they think the other party understands the same as them.
  • Often reveal brute force as argument, using majority vote unhesitatingly if they have it and will not waste much time striving for consensus.
  • Americans regard negotiating as problem-solving through give-and-take based on respective strengths. They do not appreciate having only one position.
  • Blunt. Will disagree and say so, which can cause some cultures to feel uncomfortable.
  • Many Americans see U.S. as the most successful economic and democratic power, therefore assuming that American norms are the correct ones.
  • This leads to lack of interest in or knowledge of the foreign culture. Americans often know little of such matters as saving face, correct dress, use of business cards, social niceties and formalities important to other cultures. You will often have to explain to them possible intricacies in your culture. Otherwise they will judge everything by American standards and could be insensitive.
  • In the U.S., the dollar is almighty and will win most arguments. Americans don’t always realise others will rarely, if ever, sacrifice status, protocol, or national honour for financial gain. They assume money can solve all problems.
  • They often think aloud at business meetings; you should do the same; it shows you have nothing to hide and you may cook up some joint solutions.
  • They dislike protocol. Anyone can say what they think in a meeting no matter their status. Therefore avoid to pull rank; Americans are very democratic.
  • Show great confidence in your own product and sell it hard. Show toughness, but eventual willingness to make concessions.
  • Remember they have a great work ethic and dislike people taking time off or vacation when there is an important project underway.
  • Be innovative. Change and improvement is an obsession with them. They are more interested in their future than your past.
  • Americans make quick friendships and drop them just as quickly. Long-term business relationships are rare but they remain potential partners in the future. 


Source: CultureActive by Richard D. Lewis

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