First of all, people in the UK do not like to be embarrassed. In many cases, they simply fear they may say something that the other party finds offensive or which results in misunderstanding. They reason therefore, that the best way to avoid this uncertainty is not to start a conversation at all. Foreigners often find conversations in the UK to be shorter and about general topics such as the weather, which is always popular and often used as an “icebreaker”.
The people of the UK value their privacy highly. Although they may appear to be very open in public, the implicit message permeating the culture is ‘please do not interfere with my personal space’. Although the UK is multi-cultural, this privacy requirement forces many people to be rather wary of making new friends. If a foreigner really wants to adapt to British culture and make some valuable connections, they need to be patient and realise that creating such friendships may take longer than anticipated. The high value put on personal space is also visible in everyday life, as when people will avoid sitting next to someone else on a bus or apologise if they touch someone accidentally.
Foreign business partners may find that their UK counterparts may even be too polite. People in the UK do not normally criticise or openly complain in public; or even provide negative feedback, when asked for their honest opinion, irrespective of whether or not such comments are warranted. It is therefore essential to read between the lines and seek out the honest opinions of relevant parties. Similarly, foreign business partners need to ensure that they are sending a clear message, so that there is no room for assumptions and no hidden meanings that could be misinterpreted. The British also value politeness and courtesy and, as a matter of course, will express a significant amount of respect when interacting in a business situation, either out of sincerity or simply because they are adhering to cultural norms.
Generally, it is probably impossible to develop a thorough understanding of British culture during a short business trip. In order to develop a valuable business relationship with your UK counterparts, you should take a long-term approach, respect their values of privacy and politeness, and look for shared interests.
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