What George Bernard Shaw once said about men and women could apply equally well to British and American businessmen: ‘they’re destined never to understand each other, but doomed to forever try’. Take the hungry and hopeful Yank, resplendent in his flawless suit and matching manicure. He has failed to hoist one important psychological point, and it will prove his undoing: Brits are perverse, and respond badly to personal packaging. Perfect grooming strikes them as suspicious and highly intimidating. They become wary of manipulation, and hence resistant to propositions. It is hard to trust someone who looks richer than you feel.
Corporate Yank who wants to start a productive dialogue must try to appear sympathetic. This means human, and even (here he’ll have to work against the grain) flawed. OUT with zomboid corporate-speak. ELIMINATE phrases like, ‘In Chicago, we’re very excited about the new data-control operation ...’ which sound nearly as plastic as ‘Have a nice day’, and make Brit-eyes glaze over. Hair can be rumpled, shoes a bit scuffed. Suit should look lived in.
This is a hard lesson for Yanks to learn. Usual US business practice dictates that those trying to clinch deals must convey – in dress and demeanour – the impression that:
1) they have made money, and are therefore at ease with it, and
2) they treat it Very Seriously. Nothing on this planet is more important than The Deal.
There will be no sloppy mistakes. Perfect attire reassures others that you are equally immaculate in your thinking. (You have covered every wrinkle).
It is not unknown for Brit associates to maroon a Yank in this very professionalism. It’s a form of intellectual one-upmanship to suggest that ‘of course it’s important, Old Chap, but there’s more to life than the bottom line’. There is, for example, the countryside, and Sunday lunch. The Corporate Brit can’t resist pricking the bubble of gung-ho-ness. It’s a nasty trick, and the visiting Yank reports back to Chicago that ‘you can’t talk to these people’.
The thing Brits hate most in Yank associates is their infernal optimism. This reads to them as the worst kind of naivety. Brits often cultivate, for business purposes, the image of those who are world-weary with experience, and have been around all the houses at least once. There is a common reluctance to entertain new ideas, make special efforts, or ever miss the 5.46 home to Weybridge. Instead, one earns corporate Brownie-pointsfor ‘making the best of a bad job’.
Enter the fresh-faced Yank, brimming with enthusiasm and fiscal fitness. The Irresistible Force has met the Immovable Object. He’s re-invented the wheel, and seems bent on talking about it. He comes on like a corporate adolescent as he rabbits about ‘more cost-effective ways’, and ‘simpler solutions’. Brits have mixed emotions when they appear to work.