United Kingdom

The name United Kingdom refers to the union of what were once four separate countries: England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland – though only Northern Ireland remains part of the UK.  The UK is a small but powerful country that shares cultural characteristics with other English-speaking countries, Europe and, increasingly, many of the former colonies whose people now reside in there.

UK Worldview

Self-reliance, responsible for conduct of own life; independence

Competition brings out best in individual; challenges to produce best possible; yet team spirit

Slowly diminishing class consciousness; rules; yet attention to authority; democratic ideal; initiative valued; informal

Tolerance for Ambiguity
Comfortable with ambiguous situations; risk-taking is encouraged

Eschews reference to context; strict application of formal rules

Cultural Assumptions

  • Fairness — “play the game”
  • Team spirit
  • Personal privacy
  • Respect personal differences
  • Stoicism (never complain or make a scene)
  • Support for the underdog
  • Respect for authority
  • Order
  • Formality
  • Respect for persistence
  • Self-deprecating humor

UK Communication Style

Polite and reserved, stress protocol

People tend to be  indirect; they imply/suggest what is meant.  Understatement is valued.  You need to read between the lines.  The truth, if it hurts, should be tempered; sensitivity and inference is required to understand.

Emotionally Restrained
Emotions are discredited as unprofessional; trust and credibility are developed through emotional suppression; sensitive to hurting feelings of others.

Task Oriented
The task is separated from the person.  Do business first and then have small talk.  Establishing rapport/good personal relationships is subordinated to getting the job done.  The goal is accomplishing the task, but the preference is to work with trusted colleagues.

Direct, factual, press logic of terms; reason emphasized.

Intonation and Loudness
Too loud can be intrusive, impolite.  They adjust their voice to be heard just above background noise.

Eye Contact
Eyes often wander from one eye to the other and sometimes leave the face for long periods of time during conversation. 


Overview of British Business Practice

  • Punctuality for appointments is expected
  • Businesspeople are confident but understated; never boast about finances or position directly, but may mention schooling or background as a clue to status.
  • Good negotiators, but they don’t have high regard for bargaining; a clear and reasonable approach to negotiations is best
  • Strong sense of tradition and the inevitability of events; it is considered naive to disregard these values.  Perseverance “stiff upper lip”
  • British meetings are usually long and interrupted.  Scheduled well in advance with well-planned agenda.  Successful meetings end with concrete results and agreements.  May sometimes seem adversarial
  • Oral agreements binding, but written contracts follow.
  • During business, British are formal, diplomatic, with moderate initial demands

Non-Verbal Dynamics

“Everyone aspires to be a British gentleman.”  A reference to earlier times, but polite, quiet, accommodating, and genteel expression is still a business norm.

Prefer not to be touched. With similar genders and close friendships there can be some touching.  Friends may greet with the European “air kiss” on the cheeks.

Prefer formal recognition of space.  Private; people make minimal physical contact.

Business Practices

PROBLEM SOLVING Linear/logical analysis, more theory-driven
MOTIVATING PEOPLE Autonomy and authority over work; respect for position; vacation and personal time as reward.
APPRAISING PERFORMANCE Formal, planned; supervisor led
PERFORMANCE EXPECTATIONS Task-focused, direct, factual
NEGOTIATING, PERSUADING Centralized after consensus is built; short term focus; numbers drive planning rather than issue driven planning
DECISION MAKING PROCESS Leader-centric, top-down, subordinates expect clear goals and information
PARTICIPATION IN MEETINGS Tend toward formal; agenda; punctual; contribution based on functional role/expertise and seniority
Seniority-based hierarchy; authority/deference. May appear informal but hierarchy observed.
HIRING Formal contract/job description, credentials and experience; clearly defined job territories and regulations.
DISMISSAL Formal, documented performance evaluation; union component in public sector
CUSTOMER RELATIONS Professional history important; emphasis on long-term relationships. Traditionally relationship and reputation meant more than price alone