UK: WORLD VIEW - THE FRONTIER SPIRIT. - The US's melting-pot society has produced a formidable business culture. But with toughness comes a directness which makes Americans easier to deal with than most.

by Richard D Lewis.
Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

The US's melting-pot society has produced a formidable business culture. But with toughness comes a directness which makes Americans easier to deal with than most.

The pace of American business life is different from that of other countries. From the time the first settlers demonstrated their pioneering 'frontier spirit' it has been first come, first served. This frenzied tempo shows little sign of slackening. Work equates with success, time is money and the American has to get there first. The American story is all about the triumph of the individual - start at the bottom and get to the top.

It's a daunting task which few achieve, but most American businessmen remain future-oriented optimists. The more successful US entrepreneurs have the reputation of being the toughest business people in the world, but they are, in many respects, the easiest to deal with. Their philosophy is uncomplicated - make as much money as possible as quickly as possible.

This single-mindedness is often seen as ruthless but once this is realised one can at least appreciate the straightforwardness of their manner.

You, too, should always attempt to appear straightforward and honest, but also as tough in your dealings with Americans as they are with you.

They will respect your resilience and even your open disagreement. By way of return they will argue, provoke and certainly push brute strength, but it is all part of their game. Likewise, their friendliness, while sincere and pleasant enough while it lasts, ultimately counts for little once negotiations start. Care is also needed on the detail of any agreement.

American openness and trust in the other party is usually underpinned by tight, legal control in the contractual small print. They will not hesitate to sue you later if you don't comply with every clause you have put your name to.

Despite all this, Americans find many Europeans disarming in negotiations.

This is never more apparent than when the American is buying - he wants to hear your sales pitch. Show all your toughness, but slip in a quiet injection of 'niceness', even humility. Americans come to meetings with a rough-and-ready approach but if you play this European card - emphasising your geographical and historical knowledge, your adherence to procedures and etiquette, your entertaining skills - you will undoubtedly score extra points. Your advantage as a British business person is even greater - you can enter their cultural world without difficulty, speak their language and, therefore, have insight into their thought processes. It is also advisable to have on your team someone who knows their country well. People who have lived in the US will know the short cuts.

Of course not all Americans are the same. There are regional and ethnic variations, as in many other countries. The North and South constitute the biggest divide. Memories of the Civil War are more vivid than Europeans might think. For Virginians and the southern states the defeat, humiliation and the establishment of northern laws still smart as an unpleasant and ever-present reality. The southern accent is as strong as it ever was and a more genteel and laid-back way of life is clearly discernible. New Englanders are regarded as close, enigmatic and difficult to deal with by many Americans. Bostonians have a terrible reputation for snobbishness and New Yorkers for rudeness. West of the Mississippi there are fewer variations in either accent or temperament, though Californians have a certain lifestyle most other Americans are either unable or unwilling to replicate. Ethnic and racial diversity also leads to a variety of views and tensions. Jews, Italians and Hispanic Americans - not to mention Native Americans and Afro-Americans - all have their own agenda. But despite their differences, their melting-pot society has at least thrown up a formidable mainstream American business culture. It is materialistic, driving, optimistic, confident - the 'frontier spirit' lives on.

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