More of Luke Upward’s Excellent Business Advice
1) Be on the alert if you see what might be a Scots, Welsh or Irish name. The Scots, Welsh and Irish, after centuries of subjugation, like to show that they are fully assimilated into British society, and they will resent it very strongly if you insist on referring to their national origin. Make a point of identifying them as English or at least British.
2) The British have taken up enthusiastically the concept of the power breakfast, the earlier the better. An early morning conference call is an even better way to do business, because there is no distraction from people serving food and beverages and trying to remember orders. The British are at their most clear-headed and decisive first thing in the morning: it is never too early to call. In fact, if you have a bright idea, share it with your British colleagues instantly, any time of day or night, before someone else thinks of it.
3) By the way, the British have superbly cheap and well-organized childcare. You never have to be worried about calling people at their family home. There is always a nanny or a competent au pair to put children to bed, or get them ready for school, leaving both parents free for a calm discussion of your idea for the latest off-balance sheet vehicle in your company’s accounts.
4) Much as they enjoy the power breakfast, when the British are serious about business, they take you to their club. That means you must make a special effort to be businesslike. Make sure that you carry all the business papers you will need, into every room of the club, and do not let the conversation stray too far from business. However, if there is an awkward silence to fill, you may like to switch the conversation to sex, politics or religion, the three topics which all Englishmen most like to talk about. In politics, the British are especially interested in European affairs, which receive detailed and accurate reports in the British media. At all levels of British society, you will get a lively response if you mention the latest debate in the European Parliament or ask for views on subsidiarity. As in an English club, you must also keep very alert and focused on business if an English host takes you to the theatre, ballet or opera. Be certain that you do not miss any vital telephone call.
5) However, when the British want to show that they are really serious about doing business with you, they will take you shooting or fly fishing. This is the moment to buttonhole your host and clinch a deal.
6) As you can see from a map, Britain is a very small place, smaller than many American counties, let alone states. Nowhere is very far from anywhere. It is no hardship for people to drive from London to say, Manchester, for a meeting or a social function, and they will not expect to stay overnight. Hence the famous greeting in Aberdeen: “you’ll have had your tea, then?”
7) Two areas of British etiquette are often very hard for visitors to understand. The first is the queue. The British invented the queue and are very strict about its rules. But not enough people know that a queue is for British people only. A queue is much more that what Americans would call a line. It is more like a club, or a social gathering, a chance for people to meet and talk to each other, and, above all, to identify themselves as British or local. It is therefore very bad manners for an American to join a British queue. Walk right past it to the front of the line and receive attention, so that the queue can follow its own unique rhythm. Remember to identify yourself as a VIP.
8) The second area is car parking. A company’s car park often has spaces marked for directors or officials. If you are visiting and see one of these spaces free, take it at once, without being asked. It is expected, and your host will be glad to be spared the bother of securing you a pass and a space. At any ordinary British car park, the convention is that someone going forward into a space has priority over someone attempting to reverse into it. It is recognized that the forward-going car is in a greater hurry. In this situation, don’t waste anyone’s time with an elaborate “after you, Cecil, after you Claude” routine – just drive straight in.
9) People often go wrong in communicating to the British because they are not aware of their reverence for special, professional language. Such language is identified with expertise, qualification, the right to give advice. The invention of special language is a recurring feature of British history. For many years, official business was conducted, deliberately, in languages other than English, particularly mediaeval Latin or Norman French, and even when English replaced them each profession quickly established its own unique expressions and circumlocutions: priests, lawyers, soldiers, astrologers, alchemists. Their efforts were rightly matched by the new priesthoods of the twentieth century – economists, psychologists, social scientists, management consultants. It is therefore very discourteous to any British audience to reduce any kind of technical matter to simple, everyday language. Give them the confidence that you know what you are talking about. It only takes a little thought. For example instead of saying “I think our companies have different strengths and we could work together,” you could say “The capacity and organizational complementarities of the respective companies and their differential product, service and market focus offer significant opportunities to leverage their synergies, going forward.”
10) However, if there is one quality the British value, in work and business and in every aspect of life, it is humour. The greatest gift for any manager in Britain is to make colleagues laugh and enjoy themselves in the workplace. In fact, a leading consultancy made a motivational video on this aspect, which is a best-seller. It is called simply The Office.