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.