Notre amie Victoria Rennoldson, expert dans la transmission et la compréhension de la culture anglaise, nous livre ses secrets.

Building effective connections with your British contacts

Victoria Rennoldson, February 2020

The nuances of British language and culture can be a little confusing, even if you have lived in other English-speaking countries previously. Although, obviously everybody is an individual, there are some common language and cultural rituals, so I wanted to share my top tips for building effective connections with your British contacts:

  1. Small talk/ weather talk: Like for most cultures, small talk is an important part of British meetings, and there is a ritualised start and end to every meeting, where we dedicate time to discuss light topics beyond the main topic. However, it is always limited to 5-10 minutes and after a short introduction, there is an expectation to get down to the main business. Topics might include commenting on the weather, travel to the meeting, weekend plans, and more general enquires about business progress. Weather particularly is like social glue which starts any conversation, fills awkward pauses and is a common ground for us to talk about. There is a reason why the weather is often headline news in the UK, even though our weather really is not that extreme!
  2. Attitude to time & scheduling: The British tend to avoid being too early or late, so don’t expect meetings to start exactly on time, but generally most people would see 5-10 minutes delay as acceptable. People also usually like to deliver to deadlines or within a 10% margin. The expectation is you’ll communicate if you’re going to be late, so let your British contact know in advance!
  3. Meeting style: The British have a meeting style which compared to the French can feel more structured with key actions/ agreed items spelt out, usually by summarising verbally at the end of the meeting and then following up with written confirmation. It can feel a bit too much but works well to make sure everybody is clear on next steps.
  4. A very British « no »: It can be hard sometimes to get a direct answer when asking a British person for their opinion, although this does depend on the individual. Usually the person does not want to upset you, especially if the opinion is negative, and we tend to avoid confrontation. You might hear a British person respond in a few set ways, and the tone of voice will indicate what the real opinion is. For example:
  • Interesting (said slowly and thoughtfully)
  • Quite good (with the stress on the 1st word, usually said slowly)
  • Not bad (with the stress on the 2nd word, usually said slowly, notice the double negative)

Usually after all these phrases there will be a pause before you hear the real opinion: “But…..” or “However……”.

  1. Food culture: The British love a sandwich and this is why 4 billion are eaten every year in the UK. Lunch break usually involves going to buy the sandwich and then coming back to eat it at the desk. Team lunches at the pub might feature as an occasional Friday special.
  2. Drinking culture: The British are known for their reputation for drinking and certainly socialising over drinks is an important way for you to get to know your British contacts and find out more about them personally. However, these days in London alcohol-free drink options are not just for Dry January, but an ever-increasing lifestyle trend.
  3. “Sorry, we’re British”- Humour & sarcasm: Humour is an important part of work life, usually in an ironic and sarcastic way. We like to poke fun at each other gently, not take ourselves too seriously and lighten the mood to build connection. British humour can sometimes be subtle, especially if it’s delivered without the body language that suggests somebody is trying to be funny, so don’t be surprised and follow the cues from the others around you.
  4. Parting company: At the end of a meeting, you might hear a British person say, “We must catch up again soon for lunch/ coffee etc “. This is a ritualised way to end the conversation and just means, “Sure, let’s see each other again sometime in the future, but I’m not going to fix a date now”. So, don’t expect to start looking at your diaries together at that moment. Get back in touch over the following weeks to set up your next meeting.

Victoria Rennoldson is the Founder of Perfect Cuppa English, which offers private, bespoke English language & British culture training for individuals & corporates. She regularly delivers talks and writes about British language, life & culture. You can get in touch with her at Victoria@perfectcuppaenglish.co.uk, www.perfectcuppaenglish.co.uk,

 


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