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The United States - Business Culture

Greetings and Courtesies

The U.S. is the world's fourth-largest country and its society is complex. In addition, many minority groups living throughout the country retain their own cultures. U.S. businesspeople are generally outgoing and pleased with their high standard of living. However, one should be careful not to attach special importance to this geniality. Gestures and invitations that can signal intimacy in other cultures might be nothing more than someone "just being friendly." The accepted greeting is smiling, making eye contact, and shaking hands. Handshakes are generally firm and brief, with a rapid, simple up-and-down motion. Greetings can be followed by general questions about your trip, your health, or the weather. Such questions are a form of politeness. Long, detailed answers are not expected or especially wanted. After this quick, often superficial exchange, the next topic will be business.


Business Ethic and Framework

American businesspeople thrive on information. They demand transparency in all dealings and their economic clout allows them to walk away from any deal that "smells fishy." They have no time for counterparts that are evasive or slow in providing answers.

America is awash with lawyers and contracts are held to be sacred. Violate a contract clause and expect to be pummeled with subpoenas and court hearings. Business is never "personal" in the United States, and many people have done business with each other for years yet have never met face-to-face.

Contrary to the stereotype, Americans are very sophisticated negotiators who are skilled at both buying and selling positions. The massiveness of the U.S. national economy has allowed its government to shape the world economy and international laws to suit American firms. The Americans can be the nicest people in the world when dealt with fairly. Attempt to do otherwise and they are more than happy to box the offender's ears. These guys play for big stakes and they play for keeps.


Decision Making

A common U.S. expression is "time is money." Except for situations involving large corporations, U.S. businesspeople are generally results-oriented, prefer to make quick decisions, and move quickly to put their decisions into action. In smaller businesses, one person could be the sole decision maker for the entire company and might make a decision immediately without even consulting others.


Meetings

Schedules are busy and workdays are full, so meetings start on time. U.S. business culture tends to be informal, with an emphasis on getting things done. Generally, business people are informal and direct, sometimes to the point of being confrontational. They will usually get to business quickly, so as not to waste time. Talk will be open and fast-paced. People might interrupt each other or finish sentences for someone else. They will freely give their own opinions, suggest and debate different ideas or approaches, and contradict senior group members. Control and efficiency are important. U.S. people want to be informed of new developments and changes, good or bad, so they can deal with them. Holding something back might be viewed as dishonesty. U.S. people value directness about intentions, and what can or can not be done. Evasions, even as a form of politeness, will be seen as irresponsibility or dishonesty.


Business Entertaining

Americans are a leisurely bunch, and they love to show off. Their favorite saying to describe their approach to life is "work hard, play hard," and they abide by the slogan. Business entertainment can run the gamut from lavish golf outings, to expensive dinners, to parties at country estates, even just a plain old backyard barbecue. Each region of the United States is as different as a separate country when it comes to entertaining. The east coast has "button down" staid cocktail parties, while the southeast offers slow-paced candlelight dinners on balmy porches. Texas is big business mixed with spit-roasted sides of beef and cowboy bravado. California, home of casual dress and microchips, will find business being conducted in hot tubs, at meditation centers, on ranches, or in glass towers. Anything and everything is available anywhere and at anytime in the United States. Visitors should sit back and enjoy the ride. Americans love their fun!


Women

Men hold the vast majority of management positions, but the U.S. has more women in higher-levels jobs than any other country. Women expect to be treated seriously and with the respect to which their position entitles them. Failure to do this will be insulting. A woman may not respond at the moment, but she will probably express her displeasure to her colleagues later.

Businesswomen are as open and direct as men; this should not be viewed as anything more than being friendly. Foreign women can expect to be treated the same as men, but exactly how a woman is dealt with will depend on the U.S. person she is encountering. Sexual discrimination is against the law and is not openly practiced, but private biases do exist. If a woman encounters discrimination, it will be more a reflection of the person discriminating than of the company.


Business Attire

Standard attire is a business suit, especially when dealing with large companies. However, as in everything else, individuality is accepted. Being neatly dressed and well-groomed is most important. There is generally more latitude when dealing with smaller companies or in rural areas, where ties are not as essential or suits may not be expected. Minimal attire is a jacket and tasteful pants, shirt, and shoes. Women should dress professionally and, for best results, conservatively when conducting business. Avoid extremes in fashion, and excessive jewelry, heavy makeup, or accessories. America is where the concepts of corporate casual and dress-down Friday began. Even vintage brokerage firms, known for their starched-shirt mentality just a few years ago, have given in to golf shirts and khaki pants. (Wear a tie at an American software company and they will assume you are a politician looking for votes.) Though sometimes it is hard to tell the executives from the mailroom delivery staff, comfort is sweeping through American business dress standards.


Business Advisory

"Due diligence" background checks
Americans regularly perform "due diligence" background checks on potential business partners and even on clients. To refuse to participate or to become offended will only cause suspicion. Americans like to know all the facts before they sign contracts. Foreigners should feel free to perform similar checks on American counterparts.

Politics and Graft

Politicians and bureaucrats are well paid in the United States, which greatly limits the temptation for them to ask for bribes. Graft does occur, however, but not that often relative to the number and size of transactions. When discovered, graft draws severe penalties. The United States was also the first nation to prosecute its businesspeople for participating in graft when overseas.

Business Fraud

American business is ruled by tightly worded contracts and guarantees. Fraud does occur and is highly publicized. And plenty of crooks inhabit the system. However, considering the billions of transactions that take place in the United States every day, fraud is really an uncommon occurrence.


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