Making a good impression in the USA

Published on July 30th, 2021

Time management, accountability and direct communication are all essentials when it comes to making a good impression in the USA. Read our top 12 tips to discover more.

According to the International Labour Organisation, Americans work longer hours than pretty well any other developed country – annually, 137 more hours per year than Japanese workers, 260 more hours per year than British workers and 499 more hours per year than French workers. The saying ‘Time is money’ may be a cliché, but it’s no joke. So how do you come across as serious in business in a country where time is of the essence?

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As we continue our guide to building cultural intelligence around the world, here are our top 12 tips for making a good impression in the USA:

1. Never waste a person’s time

It goes without saying that you should not waste someone’s time, or you will quickly lose respect. Many Americans work under a lot of pressure to produce results. Society revolves around getting things done quickly, hence the ‘fast’ everything: from coffee to food to ‘elevator pitches’ in business. Always be punctual. Produce an agenda before a meeting and stick to it.

2. Understand accountability

Understand why Americans can seem rushed and even aggressive in business. Individuals are accountable, even if they are part of a team. The pressure to achieve can be intense, and the readiness to fire non-performers fosters insecurity.

3. Be flexible

Australians can have a dry and perverse sense of humor and will often deliberately say the exact opposite of what they actually mean. Americans, on the other hand, have a very explicit communication style and irony can fall flat on its face. Each side should bear these Be prepared to be flexible with your time. Americans work long hours, and, according to CNBC 72% do not take their full holiday allowance. Early breakfast meetings or late-night calls are normal. Conference calls to suit American working hours are also common, even if you are in a time zone on the other side of the world.in mind.

4. Keep relationships professional

Business is strictly business and working relationships are not considered important, although there is no denying that connections help. The USA may be a meritocracy, but the old university fraternity and sorority systems do serve as a valuable networking opportunity, mainly among the wealthy. As a foreigner, though, who is not privy to these networks, you will probably not be aware of these nuances in business relationships.

5. Focus on teambuilding

Despite business seeming sometimes impersonal, American companies do work hard at team-building, so take advantage of opportunities to socialize with colleagues after work. Do not expect long lunches, though; these are a thing of the past.

6. Use appropriate language

Keep abreast of current trends and attitudes to cultural sensitivity.  Think carefully about the language you use in written communication, meetings and promotional literature. Challenge yourself constantly about unconscious bias. Never make assumptions about anybody’s background or salary grade. All Americans, whatever their rank, expect to be shown respect and be treated equally. It’s essential to observe this.

7. Keep communication clear

Prepare for communication to be direct and explicit. Say what you mean and make it clear. Americans consider someone who dodges around the truth or facts to be unreliable and a time-waster. Having said this, avoid direct criticism or stirring conflict; being too outspoken is considered rude and may shock people.

8. Do what you say you are going to do

Although you may get the impression that the heavy sell is part of daily life, Americans are more likely to respect individuals who actually do what they say they are going to do. Only commit to what you can achieve. It is acceptable to promote your past achievements and those of your company but try not to appear boastful.

9. Speak English

Foreigners are expected to assimilate themselves into American culture and certainly to speak English. Americans are not xenophobic but many people have never travelled abroad and other cultures and languages are simply alien to them and may make them feel uncomfortable. Speaking in another language at a meeting with American colleagues is very bad form, for example.

10. Focus on the short term

When pitching ideas and business proposals, keep in mind that Americans tend to focus on the short term and on instant profit. Base your proposal on speed, cost and efficiency, not past relationships or long-term development.

11. Don’t lose your audience

Prepare for short attention spans in a world where individuals are bombarded with information. Keep presentations to the point; long, rambling introductions to set the scene will quickly lose your audience. Do not be surprised if people interrupt a speech to make their own point.

12. Establish common ground effectively

While small talk is not given priority, Americans are comfortable establishing common ground with new people. Be sure you have an understanding of American sport, culture and politics. Bear in mind that politics is currently deeply divisive in the USA. Be careful before voicing strong opinions; it’s better to play it safe.

WRITTEN BY SUE BRYANT

Sue Bryant is an award-winning writer and editor specialising in global business culture and travel.


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