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Etiquette At-A-Glance: United Kingdom
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Special Feature
From the March/April 2012 issue


*The handshake is the common form of greeting (and leaving) for both male and female.

*The British might seem a little stiff and formal at first.

*Most people use the courtesy titles or Mr., Mrs., or Miss. and their surname.

*Avoid prolonged eye contact as it tends to make the British feel uncomfortable.

*There is still some protocol to follow when introducing people in a business or more formal social situation. This is often a class distinction, with the 'upper class' holding on to the long-standing traditions. Follow these guidelines:

  • Introduce a younger person to an older person.
  • Introduce a person of lower status to a person of higher status.
  • When two people are of similar age and rank, introduce the one you know better to the other person.

*If invited to a meal at a restaurant, the person extending the invitation usually pays. Do not argue about the check; simply reciprocate at a later time.

*Wait until invited before moving to a first-name basis. People under the age of 35 may make this move more rapidly than older British.

*Business cards are exchanged at the initial introduction without formal ritual.

*The business card may be put away with only a cursory glance so don’t be offended if not much attention is paid to it.

The United Kingdom is comprised of four countries: England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland. It is important not only to be aware of these geographical distinctions, but also the strong sense of identity and nationalism felt by the populations of these four nations.

The terms 'English' and 'British' do not mean the same thing. 'British' denotes someone who is from England, Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland. 'English' refers to people from England. People from Scotland are 'Scots', from Wales ‘Welsh,’ and from Northern Ireland ‘Irish.’ Be sure not to call someone Welsh, Scots, or Northern Irish ‘English.’

The British have an interesting mix of communication styles encompassing both understatement and direct communication. Many older businesspeople or those from the 'upper class' rely heavily upon formal use of established protocol. Most British are masters of understatement and do not use effusive language. If anything, they have a marked tendency to use ‘qualifiers’ such as 'perhaps', ‘possibly’ or 'it could be.”

When communicating with people they see as equal to themselves in rank or class, the British are direct, but modest. If communicating with someone they know well, their style may be more informal, although they will still be reserved.

Written communication follows strict rules of protocol. How a letter is closed varies depending upon how well the writer knows the recipient. Written communication is always addressed using the person's title and their surname. First names are not generally used in written communication, unless you know the person well.

E-mail is widespread, but the communication style remains more formal, at least initially, than in many other countries. Most British will not use slang or abbreviations and will think negatively if your communication appears overly familiar.

The British can be quite formal and prefer to work with people and companies they know or who are known to their associates. The younger generation however is very different; they do not need long-standing personal relationships before they do business with people and do not require an intermediary to make business introductions. Nonetheless, networking, and relationship building are often keys to long-term business success.

Most British look for long-term relationships with people they do business with and will be cautious if you appear to be going after a quick deal.

Punctuality is important in business situations. In most cases, the people you are meeting will be on time. Scots are extremely punctual. Call if you will be even five minutes later than agreed. Having said that, punctuality is often a matter of personal style and emergencies do arise. If you are kept waiting a few minutes, do not make an issue of it. Likewise, if you know that you will be late it is a good idea to telephone and offer your apologies.

In general, British buyers expect a rather formal structure for even what you might consider an informal meeting:

  • Meetings should always have a clearly defined purpose and an agenda.
  • There will be a brief amount of small talk before getting down to the business at hand.
  • If you make a presentation, avoid making exaggerated claims.
  • Make certain your presentation and any materials provided appear professional and well thought out.
  • Be prepared to back up your claims with facts and figures. The British rely on facts, rather than emotions, to make decisions.
  • Maintain eye contact and a few feet of personal space.
  • After a meeting, send a letter summarizing what was decided and the next steps to be taken.

Source: Kwintessential

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