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Business Culture UK

In the last few decades the intercultural communications field has increasingly gained importance within politics, trade and commerce. Both international and national companies are now realising that a clash of cultures can and does have an adverse affect on business success.

This clash takes place both on an international level, with staff frequently being sent abroad to conduct business and on a domestic level, with an increasingly diverse and multi-cultural UK workforce. The interdependent, global and multi-cultural marketplace of the 21st century brings with it new challenges.

Intercultural communication training aims to reduce the negative impact culture can have on business transactions. With differences in areas such as values, beliefs, norms, manners and etiquette there is plenty of room for misunderstandings and poor communication.

Intercultural awareness seeks to minimise such consequences and maximise the potential of businesses by equipping them with the appropriate tools to communicate across cultures effectively.

Many will ask what intercultural differences impact upon business. By way of highlighting this it may be useful to briefly look at UK business culture. If a foreigner were to come to work or conduct business in the UK what areas may they find different?

Let us consider punctuality. Most North American and European countries are 'clock conscious'. Time is money, being late for an appointment is the height of bad etiquette and coming in late to work is unprofessional. However, in many other countries this is not so. Being late for work or an appointment is acceptable and would not have harmful repercussions.

Compared with other countries, the UK office can be a reasonably relaxed and informal environment. Conversations can become personal, humour is seen as a positive and relationships frequently switch between that of friends and colleagues depending on the situation. A new German or Japanese colleague may at first find this unprofessional and lacking in professionalism.

Brainstorming, gaining consensus and objective criticism are all part of the British business meeting. However, in hierarchical cultures none of the above would take place. Meetings are usually the forum for decisions to be conveyed rather than made, criticising or challenging the ideas of colleagues and seniors would be completely unacceptable and would result in the loss of honour and face.

These brief examples are but three of numerous illustrations of business culture that a foreigner may need to understand before working with the British. If a person came to the UK and was unaware of such issues they may very well be misunderstood if they were constantly late, never contributed in meetings or did not join in with office banter.

Intercultural awareness training aims at familiarising people with a culture they (are going to) work with. The end result is stronger relationships, enhanced communication and an environment where culture becomes a vehicle to success.

Far from wanting to stereotype nationalities and offer definitive, concrete definitions of their culture and society, intercultural awareness training offers a framework that can act as a safety net for those dealing with different cultures by offering guidelines and boundaries in order to minimise the negative impact of intercultural differences.

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