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Doing business the American way

The best way to successfully work with American business partners is to think like them.

By Allyson Stewart-Allen . 01 March 2003

The best way to successfully work with American business partners is to think like them. That means understanding and accepting their values and in particular their addiction to planning of all kinds.
doingbusinesstheamericanwaylargeThe best way to successfully work with American business partners is to think like them. That means understanding and accepting their values and in particular their addiction to planning of all kinds.

To understand a business culture requires an understanding of its values. Americans in business are a straightforward and direct group, especially helpful when trying to gain insights into what makes them tick. True to the national constitution, there are three things held dear in pursuit of the almighty business deal: life (read: having fun at work); liberty (read: having control and freedom over the work we do); and the pursuit of happiness (read: money).

What is astounding is the constancy of the business values in the US today – stable for the past several decades – which have so quickly flavoured and integrated with the national values and cultures brought with the waves of immigrants starting their new lives. Those values are:

Competition. There is a shared understanding that competition raises the stakes of the game and that winning brings sweet rewards. It is akin to playing tennis with a better player because you know you rise to their level. Our business language often looks to competitive sports for its inspiration: slam-dunk, home run, left field. The love of rankings is an indicator, too, of our love of competition: the Fortune 100; the 100 best companies to work for in America; the best bosses; the best business schools.

Win/win. This is one of the best and most productive approaches to most business opportunities since it works on the basis that both parties to a business deal emerge victorious. The rules of the US business game are clear: make as much money as you can, as fast as you can. This game theory approach perhaps comes from the economics of abundance rather than the economics of scarcity and invasions, so well-known in Asia and Europe. It’s apparent in the language of business negotiations with phrases such as “how can we both make this work?” and “we’re really excited about working with you on this”. The downside of this approach, however, is the assumption by Americans in business that cash is the universal motivator and language of business. An appreciation that in most business cultures with which Americans work, winning is measured in more rounded ways (such as social inclusion, access to exclusive information) is often lacking.

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