As an international professional in the U.S., do you attend business meetings with your American colleagues every week?
Perhaps every day?
Maybe you get stressed out over these meetings because you are afraid that someone might ask you to speak up and share your opinion and you think they won't understand your pronunciation.
Maybe you have been asked to lead a business meeting in English and you aren't sure what phrases to use or how to structure the meeting.
Indeed, these are normal things to stress out about, but there is something else you should consider also!
If you only master the English phrases and fail to prepare for cultural differences that might come up in the meeting, then you aren't ready to enter that meeting room! So take a step back and spend a few moments today learning 3 key cultural tips for your next business meeting with American people.
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3 Tips for Your Success in your Next Meeting
#1) Americans prefer to stay on a strict time schedule
If you come from a culture where time is more flexible (a polychronic culture), you might believe that the meeting should end when everything has been discussed.
In your mind, there might not be a set time for the meeting to end or for each item on the agenda to be covered.
You should be aware that many Americans feel differently.
In the U.S. (a monochronic culture), a heavy emphasis is placed on rigid time schedules and time is often not flexible.
When you enter the meeting, expect to see an agenda and if you are leading the meeting, do your best to stick to the agenda. How do we know this is true? Just look at the English language for clues!
- "to respect someone's time"
- "to save time"
- "to buy more time"
- "to waste time"
Also, since time schedules are so important, never be late to a meeting in the United States! Being punctual is a way of showing respect and being professional.
#2) American culture is informal
Of course this differs for each individual company culture so check it out at your own company, but I think it's safe to say that American business culture in general is more casual than business cultures in other parts of the world.
What does that mean for you?
You should expect your colleagues to engage with you in small talk for the first few minutes of the meeting before "getting down to business."
This is absolutely necessary for your success at work and your relationship with your colleagues and your supervisors so don't ignore it.
Not sure how to make small talk?
Ask the person next to you about his or her weekend, an event in the news or a shared situation at work. Just be sure to stay away from heavy or personal topics like sex or religion.
#3) Status is less important than you think
Reseach shows that in the United States, one's status and the hierarchy within the company matters less than other countries when it comes to speaking up at meetings or challenging other people's ideas.
Studies by an Interculturalist named Hofstede have shown that many Latin American countries like Brazil, Mexico and some Asian countries like India, China, Japan or South Korea consider status more important at work than Americans do.
In contrast, countries like Germany, Finland, Norway, or Israel, place less importance than the U.S. on status.
Again, this might be slightly different for your own company, so observe your own situation, but in general in a United States business meeting, the following is common:
- Colleagues talk over each other and interrupt to share an idea (although you might want to be tactful when you do it)
- A manager or boss might consult with his team and consider their input carefully before making a decision
- An employee might disagree with his or her boss openly during a meeting
Remember, when you prepare to lead or participate in a business meeting in your American company, be sure to get informed on how cultural differences will affect the interactions in the meeting. Do this and you will be well on your way to success! Good luck