Essential Business Etiquette Tips for Doing Business in the United Kingdom

by Diane Marcus, Essential Business Etiquette

All eyes are on the United Kingdom this year due to the Diamond Jubilee celebration of Queen of Elizabeth to the throne, and the summer Olympics. If your company is thinking of doing business here, it is one of the easier countries to manage because we speak the same language and we have similar customs. With that being said, do not send one of your sales staff to the United Kingdom without doing some research. Knowing slight variations in customs and protocol will go a long way in winning over a potential client.

Geography
The proper name of the country is The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. This includes the countries of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Great Britain refers to the large island that consists of England, Scotland and Wales. You should realize that the Republic of Ireland is a separate country and is not part of the United Kingdom. The Isle of Man and The Channel Islands are Crown Dependencies.

The United Kingdom is a Constitutional Monarchy and the Queen is the Head of State. There is also a Prime Minister who is head of the government. The government has an Upper House and a Lower House.

Airports
If you are flying from the United States, you will arrive at Heathrow Airport. It is the busiest airport in the world and it is fifteen miles west of London. The second largest airport is Gatwick Airport. It is thirty miles south of London.

Language
Although both countries speak English, it will be helpful to understand that words that we use here in the United States might have a different meaning in the United Kingdom. Here is a partial list:

Great Britain United States of America
Lift Elevator
Car Park Parking Lot
Roundabout Traffic Circle Traffic Circle
Biscuit Cookie
Flat Apartment
Chips French fries
Lorry Truck
Torch Flashlight
Trousers

Pants

Another thing to keep in mind is that some words will have different spelling. Words that end in –ize and –or in the United States will end in –ise and -our in Great Britain.

Bank Holidays
It is always a good idea to look up bank holidays before traveling to another country. The United Kingdom celebrates many similar holidays like we do in the United States such as Christmas and Easter, but they also have off the following days; Good Friday, Easter Monday, Early Banking Holiday (first Monday in May), Spring Bank Holiday (last Monday in May) and Summer Bank Holiday (last Monday in August). If you plan to be there on one of these holidays, no business is conducted on these days.

Attire
Business attire in the United Kingdom is on the formal side. Men wear mostly solid or pin stripe suits in black, gray or navy blue. Ties should be solid colors or a print, never with stripes. Men should wear shirts with solid colors and no pockets. Loafers are never worn for business, only laced shoes. Socks should be the same color of the pants.

Women should wear suits with pants or skirts. They could also wear a dress with a matching jacket. They should strive to look conservative and avoid loud colors. Like the men, gray, navy or black is preferred. Hosiery should be neutral and a solid color, not mesh or with a pattern. Makeup should be light and not overdone. Both men and women should avoid excessive jewelry.

Conducting Business
Always use Mr. Mrs. or Miss when addressing your client unless they give you permission to use their first name. If your client uses “Sir”, they are referred to as Sir Mark or whatever their first name is. Business cards are often exchanged right after introductions. Never put a business card in your back pocket, use a carrying case just for business cards and put it in your suit inside pocket.

Shake hands with everyone, but once you are outside the United States, always wait for the woman to extend her hand to you first. If she does not extend her hand, just nod your head slightly to her.

If you are conducting the meeting, have an agenda. People in Great Britain are known for using more of team approach to solve problems. This is to make sure they get input from everyone. The British will appear to be more formal and reserved than Americans and they tend to meet more often than we do. After the meeting, make sure that everyone who attended gets a summary of what was discussed.

Tea
Tea is not served every day in business. If your client does invite you to tea, you should be aware that low tea is served from 3:00 – 5:00 pm and will include scones with jam. High tea is in place of dinner and will include a variety of foods including small sandwiches, scones with jam and dessert.

Conclusion
Just because you are traveling to The United Kingdom, you should not assume that business is conducted exactly the same way as it is here in the United States. Do an online search, buy books and speak with people who have traveled there. Making a faux pas can result in hundreds of lost dollars and lost time. Spending just a little bit of time to do some research ahead of time could make all the difference in getting the sale and winning the respect of your client.

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