“The tall poppy gets cut down,” is a popular Australian expression meaning that you should not be striving to stand above others. While Australians are individualistic, it is expected that in conversation and business, individuals exhibit a “sportsmanlike” style of interaction.

Australian Worldview

Self reliant, responsible for conduct of own life

Brings out the best in individuals

Task Orientation
Punctuality emphasized for the most part, but “mateship” promotes time for personal interaction

Class differences are minimized, everyone should have a “fair go”

Balanced Tolerance for Ambiguity
Rules should be created, but risk taking is encouraged

Strict application of formal rules

Exact Time
Punctuality is important and time is a commodity

Cultural Assumptions

  • “Cutting down the tall poppy” – bringing down those who (try to) stand out above the rest to a more common level
  • “Fair go” for everyone
  • Laid back & easy going; slow pace of life
  • Frequent use of humor
  • Irreverent and profane
  • Resist control and resent superiors, little identification with authority
  • Strong sense of equality & egalitarianism
  • Friendship important: “mateship”
  • Strong sense of national pride
  • Optimistic: “she’ll be right”
  • Determination highly valued
  • Sportsmanship and athletics important to society
    • Manual and intellectual labor viewed equally
  •  Layers of Culture
  • City versus “bush”
  • Coast versus inland (or “outback”)
  • Down Under—geographical distance from rest of the world
  • Multiculturalism: A country of immigrants
  • British Colonial Past
  • 1770 James Cook landing at Botany Bay
  • Penal colony until mid 19th century
  • Convicts, settlers, bush rangers—conquering harsh natural circumstances through determination; building wealthy nation from scratch
  • Aboriginal Heritage
  • Dreamtime: 40,000 years of history
  • Totem: defines identity of clan
  • Deep connection to landscape and natural world
  • Waltzing Matilda
  • Australia’s popular folk song—far more important to Australians than the national anthem—celebrating a thief as a hero and policemen as the villain

Australian Communication Style

People say what they mean; no need to read between the lines.

Low Context
Message should be spelled out, no background knowledge is assumed.  Words are primary means of communication.

Status/hierarchy not important or considered when speaking.

Displays of emotion are not common, although occur more often with Italian and Greek Australians.

Non-Verbal Dynamics

The thumbs-up gesture can be interpreted as rude.  To indicate approval or agreement, it is more common to make a circle with the thumb and forefinger with the other fingers extended.  Winking at a woman is considered inappropriate.  Using modest gestures to articulate what you are saying is common.

A firm, friendly handshake is the customary greeting.  Women friends may kiss and hug when greeting each other.  Between men, a quick pat on the back is considered normal if they are close friends.

Respect personal space; don’t stand too close to people when talking to them.  Queuing is important—never barge or jump into a line, always go politely to the end and wait your turn.

Business Practices

PROBLEM SOLVING Direct, individualized, and solution oriented; Help and input from colleagues without necessarily involving management.
MOTIVATING PEOPLE Keeping a healthy work/life balance (“work to live”). Not necessarily motivated by monetary reward or promotion. Often prefer getting time off instead.
APPRAISING PERFORMANCE Objective, based on target and outcome.
PERFORMANCE EXPECTATIONS Task oriented, with realistic deadlines; taking time to do the job well is viewed as good work ethic. Working overtime is the exception, not the norm. If overtime work is required, people want to be notified upfront.
NEGOTIATING/PERSUADING Fast and direct; will let negotiation partner know openly if they think that the outcome is unfavorable.
DECISION MAKING Senior management is generally responsible for decision making; input from subordinates to help form decisions; decisions can be disputed if not deemed agreeable by constituency; decision maker may concede without losing face and respect.
PARTICIPATION IN MEETINGS Meetings are only scheduled when necessary and people expect something of value to be discussed; punctuality is expected; agenda is followed; brainstorming and discussion occurs in short spurts.
Differences are minimized and hierarchy not displayed openly.
HIRING / DISMISSAL Performance based, although “mateship” plays a role.