“Our workforce and our entire economy are strongest when we embrace diversity to its fullest, and that means opening doors of opportunity to everyone and recognizing that the American Dream excludes no one.” – Thomas Perez
After we began our blog series ‘Leading as an Expat with the Middle East’, this month’s entry may seem like child’s play in comparison. After all, aren’t we all familiar with the US?
Americanisation is widespread, and they speak English. So when it comes to countries with superficial cultural similarities, such as a common language, it’s easy to miss underlying differences. It’s on these we’ll focus today, and what they mean for you as an expat leader in the US.
Leading in America as an Expat? These 5 Tips will Help!
1. Mind your language. You may have come across the quote “Two nations divided by a common language” (attributed to Oscar Wilde, George Bernard Shaw and even Winston Churchill). American English differs from British English, which is the English predominantly used in Europe. Therefore, it’s important to be aware of the differences in spelling, vocabulary and expressions when you’re working in the US, and even more so when you’re leading. For example, American business language is riddled with idiomatic expressions taken from sports, such as “touch base”, “game plan” and “home run”.
2. Chit chat away! Small talk is a key part of US business culture. Whereas, for example, Brits tend to use the weather as a conversation starter, and Russians don’t engage in much small talk at all. It’s not unusual to approach a stranger at a meeting or an event with a simple “Hi! I’m John”. What’s more, “Sport-speak” is an important part of small talk in the US, so start familiarising yourself with American football and baseball right away.
3. Sell yourself. Americans are comfortable talking up their accomplishments, whereas in many other cultures, overt self-promotion is unusual and even looked down upon. As a leader in the US, you will do well to try being less humble, sell yourself and work on feeling comfortable receiving praise in public.
4. Be enthusiastic and optimistic. Enthusiasm is a cultural norm in the US. If you practice self-restraint and moderation, you may come across as uninterested and unmotivated and this may rub off on your team. It’s appropriate to be emotionally expressive (optimism being the emotion of choice) in all sorts of business settings, at times, the situation may even demand a high-five!
5. Be informal, but be on time. Americans tend to be less formal than their European counterparts in the business world, both when it comes to attitude and dress. Don’t get carried away by the informality and mistake it for laxness, though. “Time is money” as they say, and in the US punctuality is of prime importance.
It’s important to avoid overgeneralisations, especially when it comes to a country as large and diverse as the US. The beauty of America lies in this very diversity and acceptance of different cultures. With our tips in the back of your head, you’ll figure out “The American way” in no time.
What have you noticed about US culture that we haven’t talked about in this post? How is American culture different from your own? Contribute to the conversation below.