If you’re looking to set up a UK company, then understanding subtle differences in business culture can be vital to a smooth transition. Knowledge of different attitudes may help you communicate more effectively and remove cultural barriers to success.
It’s important to remember that the four regions that make up the United Kingdom have separate and distinct identities – not everyone is ‘English’ or ‘British’. First name introductions are quite normal but use of academic titles may be considered arrogant. There is no formal etiquette around the exchange of business cards, so it’s quite normal to glance briefly and then put them away. A firm handshake and direct eye contact project confidence.
Avoid direct statements – the British are known for their politeness for a reason and a mastery of indirect speech and reading between the lines will pay dividends. You’ll also need to be sensitive to dry British humour and develop the ability to laugh at yourself. But don’t confuse humour with not taking business seriously.
Be aware that this is not a usual part of UK business etiquette – in fact many businesses discourage it on ethical or legal grounds. However, gifts that acknowledge the occasion – be it a successful negotiation or an invitation to dinner – are acceptable.
Corporate and social issues and responsibilities
It’s wise to be aware of the British social and political landscape. Austerity policies have led to public concerns about corporate tax avoidance. Sustainability is also a key issue in the wake of the recently signed agreement for the Hinkley Point nuclear power plant. The new apprenticeship levy and National Minimum Wage have impacts and implications for employers and employees, while Brexit has magnified concerns over employees’ rights and the application of European law in the workplace.
Researching the key issues and understanding how much the UK values fairness in business or corporate responsibilities should be a crucial part of the preparation phase before you open a UK office. The better your understanding of the issues, the more effectively you’ll be able to do business in the United Kingdom.