Managing relationships in the UK

Written by Naoufal Mezian November 2013. Posted in Business relations, Int. Skills

Managing relationships in the UK

Recognizing diversity, equality and results for healthy business relationships in the United Kingdom

Managing relationships abroad can be a challenging exercise. International business partners often have different perspectives on what is important in the relationship. It is important to be aware of your foreign business partner’s perspective and how that differs from yours. You will need to ask yourself which elements of the relationships are most important to him or her. This article focuses on how to successfully manage business relationships in the United Kingdom.

It is important to consider the different countries that make up the United Kingdom: England, Northern Ireland, Wales and Scotland. It is crucial that you do not refer to any of the inhabitants of one of those countries as an inhabitant of another one, as calling for example someone from Wales an Englishman can be considered offensive. When in doubt, the safest way to address someone is as a Briton. Note that there are differences in the various British accents and that it is important that you can fully understand your potential partners before doing business with them.

In general, Britons are very result oriented, since meeting targets is crucial for them. This also applies to business relationships, of course, as those are judged mainly on results and thus not meeting targets can damage the relationship. Therefore, when managing your business relationships in the UK, it is much better to invest in achieving the agreed targets than in establishing a strong personal relationship with your business partner.

“Power distance” is a cultural indicator that anthropologist Geert Hofstede introduced in his bookCulture’s Consequences. With its score of 35 on Hofstede’s “Power Distance Index”, the UK can be seen as having a low power distance in the UK, which means that inequalities amongst people are minimized there. The low power distance can also be found in the business environment, so it is important to keep that in mind when doing business in the UK: treat all your business partners as equally as possible, although that doesn’t mean you cannot respect the higher-ups more than the average workers.

Upon meeting your business partner, the most common way of greeting is to shake hands, and this applies to both men and women. When shaking hands, you can say “How do you do?”. Note that this is not an actual question regarding your well-being, because you are expected to simply reply with “How do you do?” In contrast, “How are you?” is an actual question and the most common reply is “Fine, thank you. How are you?”. Under normal circumstances, kissing and hugging your business partner is very inappropriate. Allow enough personal space between you and your business partner, as this will make him or her feel more comfortable.

While in many countries gift-giving is considered an important aspect of managing relationships, it is always important to be cautious when giving gifts and to adhere to local customs. Under normal circumstances, gift-giving is not daily practice in British business culture, as you might actually embarrass your business partner by giving him/her a gift. The exception would be at the conclusion of an important deal. Examples of good gifts are pens, books, flowers and.

Sooner or later you may start and have to manage a relationship with an important (future) British client, but now are aware of several crucial aspects of managing relationships in the UK. British people are actually very diverse and there are a lot of cultural differences between the inhabitants of the UK. Due to the large power distance you will have to treat all your business partners, more or less, equally. Stick to formal greetings and be very cautious about giving gifts.