Business English is more than just learning the language, phrasal verbs, and vocabulary that you need to be confident in a professional setting: it also includes learning the American business traditions that you need to know in order to conduct business in the U.S.! Do you know these American business traditions? See how they differ from the business traditions in your country.
American Business Traditions
The handshake: an important first impression
The handshake is your first impression in business and it is considered VERY important. Make sure that during a handshake you:
- Hold the person’s hand firmly
- Look the person in the eye
- Saying something such as “nice to meet you” or “it’s a pleasure to meet you.”
Formal names and titles
Before meeting with the person, make sure that you know their full name . . . but always use “Mr” and “Ms” when you first meet them. If the person has a title, such as “President” or “Doctor” or “Professor,” use this title + the person’s last name. Here are some examples:
- It’s a pleasure to meet you, Professor Smith.
- Nice to meet you, Doctor Jones.
- Pleased to meet you, Vice President Roberts.
If the person prefers for you to use his or her first name, they will tell you. Usually, please say “Please, call me [first name].”
Dress to impress
It is true that Silicon Valley has a reputation of companies that accept very casual attire (think about Mark Zuckerberg, for example: he always wears a grey shirt!). However, in traditional business settings, it is important to dress professionally. For men, this often means a tie and a long-sleeved dress shirt; for women, this can mean nice slacks or a skirt and a dress shirt.
Forget gifts; remember hand-written notes
In the U.S., gifts can be seen as bribes (gifts you give someone to persuade them to make a decision). Instead, try to be thoughtful: send a hand-written note after the meeting and thank the person for his or her time, and suggest an opportunity to meet again.
Business cards before or after
Business card culture in the U.S. is very casual. Once you meet the person and get settled (sit down, take out your meeting notes) you can present your card; sometimes, this is something people do at the end of the meeting. The only thing that is important is giving your card when the other person does. If you’re unsure, wait to see when the other person gives you his or her card, then do the same.
If the card has an interesting design or logo, it is appropriate for you to give the person a compliment.
Smiles, eye contact
Body language is very important during a meeting. Be sure to smile, look at the person when they are speaking, and make eye contact. Avoid using your phone, and take notes if you can. Make sure that your phone is turned on silent so that it does not ring or buzz during your meeting.
Lunch meetings are productive
Lunch can be lunch . . . or, it can be an opportunity to discuss business. In American culture, it’s very common for people to have a productive lunch meeting where they eat together and talk about business plans.
Of course, there are some people in the U.S. who smoke, but many do not. It is considered rude to smoke without asking the people around you if it bothers them: to be safe, leave your cigarettes in your bag and wait until after the meeting.
Common Business Idioms
Do you know these common business idioms?
To talk about similarities
To be in the same boat
Definition: to be in a similar situation.
To be on the same page
Definition: to understand someone; to agree with someone.
To talk about strategies
To cut corners
Definition: to not do things thoroughly; to not follow the normal steps for a process or project.
Definition: a plan of action for a project.
To meet someone halfway
Definition: to compromise.
To think outside of the box
Definition: to think creatively.
Definition: to sacrifice something in order to gain something else; to compromise.
To talk about struggles/difficulties
A long shot
Definition: something that has very little chance of success.
To be between a rock and a hard place
Definition: to have the choice between two difficult decisions, both with outcomes that are not ideal.
To go out of one’s way (to do something)
Definition: to give extra effort, resources, etc. to help someone.
To have one’s head underwater
Definition: to feel overwhelmed, unprepared.
Converse International School of Languages in San Diego and San Francisco provides Business English classes with no more than 8 students per class (an average of 7 students) to help you improve your English skills for the workplace. If you need more intensive practice, CISL’s Premier English Executive Programs for professionals offer intensive instruction with 4-student classes focused on your career’s required English skills. Watch our testimonials below to hear about the success CISL students experience in our small classrooms and intensive curriculum.
Contact CISL to learn more about our San Diego Executive English Program and our San Francisco Global Success Program and to begin the next phase of your career: conducting business confidently in English!