Business Etiquette


Business Etiquette in the UK

When getting a job in the UK, or in any foreign country for that matter, it is important to familiarize oneself with the local business culture in order to make sure that one’s behavior does not offend or alienate colleagues and business partner alike. In the following, you will find a first introduction to the dos and don’ts of British business etiquette.

Politeness is the Key

The British are well-known for their polite and often indirect way of communication and this is also the case for business settings. It is, for example, considered quite rude to directly disagree with someone. Instead of “I disagree, we should do it another way” you will most likely hear a sentence like “That is a good idea, however…”. Furthermore, bluntness is not only frowned upon in cases of disagreement, but in general conversation as well. If you have an idea, you can openly share it in the next meeting, but don’t verbally pat yourself on the back, avoid exaggeration and base your presentation on facts and figures. Generally keep in mind that you should not just take what your business partners or colleagues are saying at face value, but learn to read between the lines of politely phrased communication.

Introductions, Forms of Address and Appearances

When meeting a new business partner, make sure to introduce yourself with a firm handshake and keep eye contact. Contrary to a number of e.g. Asian countries, in the UK there is no formal exchange of business cards, simply accept a card when offered. First-name basis is a common form of address even in business settings, so do not take this as a sign of overt affection or a lack of respect if you are used to a more formal form of address. Similarly, academic titles – with the exception of a medical doctor’s degree – are hardly ever used in the UK. Business attire, on the other hand, tends to be rather formal, and dark suits or conservative dresses can be found in many office settings. However, the dress code obviously depends heavily on what kind of work you are doing and on the individual company.

Business Meetings and Socializing

Meetings play an important role in British business culture. Typically scheduled well in advance, this is the place where ideas are introduced, discussed and decisions made. When presenting a topic, make sure your arguments are fact-based and that you can answer any topic-relevant questions that might crop up during a follow-up discussion. While you can be passionate about a topic, make sure you stay polite and avoid overly emotional displays or exuberant gestures. After-work pub visits together with colleagues are hardly uncommon in the UK and a good chance to get to know your coworkers better in a more informal setting. Don’t be surprised, however, when you are expected to buy a “round” for everyone. It is common practice in a group to take turns providing drinks.

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