Expanding your Company's Horizons

Doing Business in England

A small island nation with a big global influence, England is seen as the gateway to Europe for many companies hoping to expand overseas. However, while England is a member of the EU, most English do not consider themselves European. It’s a country with a unique history and long-standing customs, and home to a proud people—understanding this will help any business person in their dealings there. England is part of the United Kingdom, which is made up of four distinct countries with four distinct cultures and customs. The following focuses only on England and its business customs.

Points worth understanding

  • Business is seen as a formal exchange in England. This belief should be understood and respected when setting out to do business there.
  • While it always helps to know someone, it’s becoming less common that you need to have an introduction in order to have a business meeting in England. It was typical in the past to rely on contacts, and having connections will still play in your favor, but it’s not the only way to get business done in England these days.
  • The English tend to be conservative in their mannerisms, but do not mistake this to mean that they are not friendly or open-minded.

Business Meetings

  • Business meetings in England may start with some small talk, but will get down to business quickly.
  • Business cards will likely be exchanged at the beginning of a meeting. This is done in a fairly casual manner.
  • Meetings in England usually have a clear goal and agenda.
  • The way a meeting is run may depend on the individuals in attendance. If a senior person in the company is present, that person may end up doing most of the talking. If it’s a group of similarly-ranked individuals, it will likely be more of a discussion.
  • Brits are direct in their thoughts and communication about business, so be prepared for some no-nonsense discussion.
  • When making a presentation, back up your ideas with facts and give lots of details as support. Do not be overly gregarious in your presentation style. The English generally prefer a more contained enthusiasm in business.
  • In most companies, the Board of Directors makes all major decisions. The Board will likely have to approve your negotiations as well, which may slow down the closing of a deal.

Body Language

  • People do not tend to gesticulate a lot when they speak in England. They do maintain eye contact, but just make sure not to stare.
  • The English do not usually slap backs in a show of affection or touch others while communicating in general. Allow for enough physical distance between you and your English counterparts, so as not to make them feel uncomfortable.
  • Greet your colleagues in England with a handshake.

More to Keep in Mind

  • Mixing business and pleasure is not uncommon in England. If you go out for drinks with business colleagues, note that it’s customary to buy at least one round of drinks for everyone.
  • The English are not usually fans of aggressive pushing in business, so it is likely that your counterparts will not be rushed and opt for the longer road when closing deals.
  • Your English colleagues will likely not be overly expressive in showing approval—so don’t expect a lot of excitement and encouragement. At the same time, don’t assume they don’t like your ideas simply because they’re not enthusiastic in their response.

Sources

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