British Communication Styles

The British are almost Asian in their use of diplomatic language. Almost alone in Europe, (with the possible exception of the Belgians), they strongly place diplomacy before directness in communication.

Being very non-confrontational in business situations, the British equate directness with open confrontation and fear that bluntness will offend the other party. This can often lead the British to seem evasive in meeting situations when they are really searching for a way of saying something negative in a positive way.

In addition to being diplomatic, the British also use language in a coded manner preferring to say unpalatable things using more acceptable, positive phrases. Thus, “I disagree” becomes “I think you have made several excellent points there but have you ever considered….” And a lack of interest in an idea is often greeted with “Hmm, that’s an interesting point.”

Humour is virtually all-pervasive in business situations. Indeed, the more tense and difficult a situation is, the more likely the British are to use humour. This does not imply that the British are not taking the situation seriously – it is merely that humour is used as a tension release mechanism in the UK and helps to keep situations calm, reserved and non-emotional. Never underestimate a British businessperson because he or she uses humour in a seemingly inappropriate situation. Humour is a very important and respected communication tool at all levels and in all contexts.

It is better to be self-deprecating than self-promotional in the UK. People who are verbally positive about themselves and their abilities may be disbelieved and will, almost definitely, be disliked.

A brief overview of some key concepts to consider when doing business in Great Britain

Written and Produced by Keith Warburton

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The United Kingdom remains one of the largest, most competitive markets in the world. It is a global centre of excellence across a wide range of business sectors as well as being a world-leader in higher education. The City of London, along with New York, continues to dominate international finance and UK-based legal firms retain their pre-eminence as global players.

Despite these massive positive factors, the UK faces a number of challenges going forward. How will the UK cope with a post-Brexit world as it navigates its way through the Brexit negotiations and looks to forge new partnerships outside it traditional markets within the EU? Will the UK be able to improve its notoriously poor productivity levels and will the City of London be able to retain its leadership role in global finance?

All of these questions will be answered in the coming decade but in the intervening period the UK remains open for business and the prospects for doing successful business in the UK remain positive. The UK actively seeks overseas companies who see the country as an attractive market and world-class incentives are in place to help you take advantage of a sophisticated consumer base and a highly educated workforce.

If you are considering doing business in the UK, you need to consider the cultural issues you are likely to encounter. Put simply, the British are quick to take offence. Your communication style might be viewed as aggressive, when you thought you were merely being helpfully direct or your negotiating style could appear confrontational when you thought you were offering useful alternatives. Study the UK approach to business in advance – it will pay dividends.

This country profile provides an overview of some of the key aspects of business culture in the UK in a concise, easy to follow-format. The document includes information on:

  • Background to business
  • Business Structures
  • Management style
  • Meetings
  • Teamwork
  • Communication
  • Women in business
  • Entertaining
  • Top tips