Cultural differences is one of the challenges in collaborating with people from other parts of the globe. To help you get a better understanding of how it’s like teaming up with Western clients (particularly those from Australia, New Zealand, the United States or the United Kingdom), here is a brief overview of their most common workplace values.
Note: this isn’t a guarantee that your client will necessarily behave as such.
- In meetings – It’s common for American employers to hold meetings for brainstorming, feedback and planning projects. If you’re invited, it means your views are welcome and encouraged.
- In how they communicate – Americans value individuality and speaking directly in the workplace. Thus, they appreciate and freely offer their views when they communicate. It’s common for American clients to insist you call them by their first name.
- In casual conversations – Americans engage in short, informal and friendly small talk. Some may say, “How are you?” but it’s likely just a greeting and not an invitation to share personal details.
- In work-life balance – Many Americans define themselves by their profession, so it’s no surprise they typically put in and/or expect the longest working hours.
- On hierarchies – American organizations observe hierarchy but mainly for convenience. Bosses are typically accessible and leaders rely on workers for their expertise.
Tips on communicating with American clients
- To Americans, it’s often considered rude to ask a direct question about someone’s salary/wealth, age or weight – so avoid doing so.
- When communicating with American clients, see to it that you avoid hot-button topics like abortion, terrorism, civil rights, religion, politics, the death penalty, and gun control.
- Race relations in the US is a serious topic, so never make racial slurs. In any case, this tip applies to all other clients as well.
- In meetings – Australians (colloquially known as Aussies) tend to start meetings with some small talk. And because they’re typically laid-back, you may also encounter them engaging in some slang, jokes and swearing.
- In how they communicate – Aussies speak plainly, if not a little bluntly – but note that this isn’t aggression. They also like to shorten their words when they talk (e.g. g’day, cuppa, footy).
- In casual conversations – Aussies start conversations with, “Hi, how’s it going?”, but it’s a greeting and not a question. You can reply with, “Good, thanks. How about you?”
- In work-life balance – They may be laid-back, but Aussies work extremely hard when in the office and rarely ever refuse extra work even when their schedule is full.
- On hierarchies – Among Westerners, Aussies don’t place as much value in workplace hierarchies. Employees typically receive the same treatment regardless of their rank.
Tips on communicating with Australian clients
- If an Australian client teases you, reply with good humor and show you’re not annoyed by it. This shows that you don’t take yourself too seriously.
- When scheduling meetings with an Australian client, make sure you set it several days in advance. See to it that you also clearly state the meeting’s objectives.
- Maintain eye contact when speaking with an Aussie client through video; this shows sincerity and trustworthiness. But don’t stare – occasionally break eye contact to avoid making your client feel uncomfortable.
New Zealander clients
- In meetings – New Zealanders (colloquially known as Kiwis) tend to be serious in meetings but they try to keep the mood relaxed with their humor and some small talk. If you’re invited to a meeting, you’re welcome to give your opinion and expected to be punctual.
- In how they communicate – Kiwis often speak in an indirect manner. They usually try to avoid conflict, so your client’s instructions may sound like a request than an order (e.g. “I wondered if you wouldn’t mind getting that invoice for me,” instead of “Get me that invoice”).
- In casual conversations – Kiwis are typically more disposed to small talk, especially during breaks. Suitable topics usually include current events, sports, traffic, the weather, and the previous night’s TV programs).
- In work-life balance – It’s common for a Kiwi business to know the connection between work-life balance and productivity, which is why many promote it. Nonetheless, they don’t tolerate absenteeism; reliability is expected.
- On hierarchies – Kiwi businesses are typically smaller and less hierarchical. They encourage honest communications between leaders and employees.
Tips on communicating with New Zealander clients
- There’s a friendly rivalry between New Zealand and Australia which is all in good fun, but it’s better to avoid comparing the two altogether.
- Because New Zealanders soften their instructions and requests, clarify if you’re unsure.
- It’s okay to refuse your Kiwi client or disagree with them if you need to. Just make sure you do it politely and by softening your language. For instance, instead of stating something is wrong, say “Actually, I think that’s not quite correct.”
- In meetings – Like other Westerners, the British also engage in small talk before meetings, but they tend to be more reserved. Likewise, they won’t immediately express what they really think.
- In how they communicate – In an effort to be diplomatic, Brits typically understate what they mean, or sometimes say the opposite. For instance, if a British client says, “That’s interesting”, It most likely means they don’t like whatever that is.
- In casual conversations – Brits tend to be more formal and have a dry wit. Their most common – and preferred – topics for small talk include the weather, traffic, a recent sporting event, or the weekend.
- In work-life balance – Like Americans, Brits see the appeal in staying late at the office or even replying to emails in the middle of the night.
- On hierarchies – British organizations observe hierarchy as well, and are typically more formal. But when it comes to decision-making, they pride themselves on empowerment and autonomy.
Tips on communicating with British clients
- The British also like to tease, so don’t take your client’s jokes literally or too seriously.
- Brits are unlikely to commit to anything right away, so don’t expect them to decide immediately. To push for a decision, including a time frame in your question, like “Do you think we could make a final decision at our next meeting?”
- The British frame their instructions as polite requests so watch out for them. If they say something like “Do you think you could…”, or “Perhaps we should try…”, treat them as firm orders.