Before we even begin to discuss some of the general business practices in the United States, there are two key points in American culture that we need to understand. Individualism and egalitarianism are two important elements in American culture that have significant effects on their business etiquettes.
According to the research and studies of Geert Hofstede, a Professor of International Management at the University of Limburg at Maastricht, the Netherlands and a notable expert on business culture having done comprehensive studies on values in the workplace, the United States has a high level of individualism in its society.
This is the reason behind Americans show more self-reliant behaviors and, aside from themselves and close family members, tend to form loose bonds with other people. American culture emphasizes and practically awards those who take the initiative and those whose goals are towards personal achievements. Status and age doesn’t matter much and what is looked at are one’s personal achievements.
Meanwhile, egalitarianism or the concept of equality is important as well. Americans believe that they should be provided with equal rights, equal social obligations, and equal opportunities. Equality, however, is still based on individual achievements. Americans feel and believe that working hard and doing their best deserve success and better financial gains.
This concept of equality influences how Americans treat people that are richer, older, and authority figure. Americans generally don’t show much respect to people who are financially and/or socially higher in status. Professional titles are very seldom used and people prefer calling each other by their first names.
You’ll find that American business culture is very task centered. Americans are direct and will say “no” if they want to. It’s normal for them to criticize work, performance, or persons in public so don’t feel embarrassed if you find yourself in the receiving end.
Furthermore, punctuality is considered sacred in American business culture. People are expected to attend meetings and appointments on time and deadlines are expected to be met on the dot. Failure to do so is often frowned upon and is seen as highly disrespectful. Being punctual and meeting deadlines are further emphasized due to the “time is money” philosophy which is practiced by the general business community.
Americans are willing to work long hours and overtime due to their work ethic. Office/business hierarchy is also being practiced with stress being given on company organizational structure. However, because of individualism in American society and business culture, the working environment is highly competitive with emphasis on personal competence, professionalism, and individual accountability.
With regards to some business etiquettes, firm handshakes signal the start and end of business meetings. Show of sincerity and interest is shown by maintaining direct eye contact during the initial greeting and during important parts of a conversation. Exchanging business cards is viewed as an ordinary or casual activity and follows no formal rules.
When you do business in the US, it is important that one pays attention to guidelines and rules dictated by business policies, procedures, and laws. Be careful when giving gifts, since the practice is often discouraged by many companies since the gesture can easily by misinterpreted as a bribe.