UK – the importance of humour
The British place diplomacy before directness in communication. Being very non-confrontational in business situations, directness is equated with open confrontation, fearing that bluntness will offend the other party.
Humour is virtually all-pervasive in business situations. Indeed, the more tense and difficult a situation is, the more likely the British are to use humour. This does not imply that the British are not taking the situation seriously – it is merely that humour is used as a tension release mechanism and helps to keep situations calm, reserved and non-emotional. Never underestimate a British businessperson because he or she uses humour in a seemingly inappropriate situation. Humour is a very important and respected communication tool at all levels and in all contexts.
In comparison with many other cultures, relatively little preparation is done for meetings (with the exception of client-facing meetings). This is because meetings are often viewed as the forum for the open debate of an issue and that, during that open debate, a route forward will be found. When the route forward is agreed, then the detailed work schedule will be implemented. Agendas will be produced and followed loosely. If something important arises during the open debate it will not be excluded simply because it does not occur on the agenda.
Although traditionally hierarchical in structure, many British firms have moved towards a flatter, less bureaucratic approach. This has also resulted in a certain lack of shape, with boundaries and responsibilities being blurred. It can be difficult to get a clear picture of the structure of a British company, with even employees being unclear as to the exact remit of their jobs.
It is reasonably common to be invited out for lunch by a business contact in the UK, but less usual to be asked to go for dinner. Business lunches are often seen as an extension of the meeting and it is usually acceptable to discuss business matters over the food. If in doubt over this matter, follow the lead of your host. Alcohol will usually be offered at lunch and some British business people will accept whilst others prefer to stick to soft drinks — this is an entirely personal decision and you will not be under pressure to drink alcohol in this situation. It is however, much more common for larger amounts of alcohol to be drunk at dinner and on these occasions you may find that you are placed under a small amount of pressure to join in the ‘drinking culture’.
Do you enjoy the humour or do you find it inappropriate when conducting business in the UK?