By Paola Pascual & Simon Kennell on Jul 7, 2021 8:23:45 AM
Working in a global environment is enriching and opens up wonderful opportunities, but language barriers and cultural differences may lead to unfortunate misunderstandings. Although each individual is different, we are all influenced by our surroundings. Understanding cultural and communicative differences will help you and your teams improve productivity and lead more successful business projects.
How To Communicate Better With...
In this new series, we will cover how to communicate better with different nationalities. Bear in mind that we will share general communicative differences, not principles. We believe that understanding how different cultures communicate will help you advance in your career and make your business thrive. However, remember that each individual has a different communication style, so please take these tips with a grain of salt and take the time to get to know each person.
In this episode, we will cover how to better communicate with US Americans. People from the United States are usually referred to as simply 'Americans' - even though America is a big continent where Canadians, Mexicans, Colombians, Cubans, and many other nationalities live. In this article, we will be mostly using the term 'US American,' although you will also see that we used just 'Americans' a couple of times for the sake of conciseness. As a general rule, when communicating internationally, we recommend specifying the country to show respect to the other people on the continent.
Did you know these facts about the United States?
- Population: 328.2 million
- Languages: There is no official language at the federal level, but English is de facto national language of the United States. The second most commonly used language is Spanish.
- Capital: Washington, D.C.
- Most populous city: New York City
- Number of states: 50
- Currency: U.S. dollar
- Economy: It accounts for approximately a quarter of the global GDP
Verbal communication in the United States
- Communication Styles. People in the United States are generally quite enthusiastic, assertive, and persuasive in their speech. It is very common to hear them say things such as "That's awesome," "Wow, amazing!" or "That's the funniest thing I've heard in my life." This way of communicating may sometimes be confusing for people from other cultures and they may think they are being exaggerated or fake. Just remember that this boils down to how they learned to communicate and is less about their personality. You will find this article fun to read: What Americans Really Mean When They Say Things Like “How Are You?”
- Direct Communication. US Americans tend to communicate in a direct way. They are not on the most direct side of the direct/indirect spectrum, but they are more direct than most African and some Asian countries. US Americans usually convey their entire message verbally, paying less attention to body language. People are expected to ‘get to the point’ quicker than in other cultures. This does not mean courtesy is disregarded in communication, but it does mean that Americans may sometimes miss nuances (such as understatement) in conversation or some types of humor (for example, subtle sarcasm or ironic statements, more frequent among British speakers).
- Modesty. US Americans may not come across as very modest. Others may hear them and think that they are boasting, but this is because the US often encourages individualism and competition is part of their culture. People are expected to speak on their own behalf instead of waiting for someone to point out their achievements or success for them.
- Silence. People in the US sometimes feel uncomfortable when there are long periods of pause or silence during a conversation. You will notice that they often try to fill that gap.
Non-verbal communication in the United States
- Eye Contact. Eye contact is often maintained directly. It demonstrates warmth, openness, honesty, and approachability. If you make eye contact with a stranger in passing (on the street or at a store), give a small smile or nod to acknowledge them. Continuing on your way without smiling might be considered unfriendly or slightly rude. Although this is true for most of the US, it is less common in NYC.
- Physical Contact & Personal Space. Generally, US Americans do not touch each other outside of their families and close relationships. However, cities that are more internationally exposed may adopt more physical contact in social contexts. Touching someone – especially in the workplace – can be misinterpreted, so try to avoid it. They also like to be given a fair amount of personal space, so try not to encroach on it during a conversation. If an American feels you are ‘in their face’ too much, they will probably not mention it and simply step back.
- Gestures & Smiling. People in the US usually nod or show some kind of sign that they are listening throughout a conversation. Many Americans smile when passing strangers on the street as a simple gesture of goodwill, which may feel odd for people from other cultures. Again, remember that real New Yorker might get freaked out by you just smiling at them on the street.
7 tips to communicate better with US Americans
#1 Cut to the chase
When communicating with US Americans, remember that time is money. Efficiency is highly valued and that is transferred to communication, so make sure you arrive on time. In presentations and meetings with an audience from the US, start with the most important information. In most European countries, it is common to start with a general introduction, then some general statements and possibilities, and then finish with a logical conclusion (deductive reasoning). In the US, though, professionals tend to start with specific data and conclusions, and then add supporting information (inductive reasoning). When communicating with US Americans, remember to begin with your point or findings, and then provide support.
#2 Be direct and concise
Time is very valuable in the US and being concise and to the point signals that you are mindful of people's time. There, the speed of business is faster than in most other countries, so being direct is considered kind. Meetings can be quite casual compared to meetings in most East Asian countries, and they may adopt a direct and friendly communication style. Hierarchies are less obvious during communication unlike most Asian cultures, where rank and role are reflected in conversation and language.
#3 Understand their enthusiasm
People from the United States tend to communicate in a very enthusiastic way. If you work with Americans, you will very likely hear the words 'awesome' and 'great' quite often. This sometimes makes it complicated for other cultures to understand what Americans really mean, especially when receiving feedback (are things truly great?). This is just part of the culture. Try to take in the whole message and read between the lines. If you come from a less enthusiastic culture (in terms of communication), such as Germany or Israel, you will find that removing the intensifiers (best, amazing, incredibly, absolutely), will bring their message closer to your communication style. On the flip side, you may want to take your message up a notch to match your American peeps.
#4 Silence in conversation... Not a thing
Silence is somewhat disturbing to many US Americans. Whenever there is a silent pause during a conversation, Americans may feel awkward and uneasy. This gives you two choices: either use silence as a tool to gain leverage in communicating with Americans or avoid silence to accommodate them.
#5 When providing feedback, sprinkle small compliments
When providing feedback, you can be honest, but it is usually a good idea to sprinkle small compliments and use a positive, constructive tone. Although initially some cultures may view this as 'fake', this can be a great exercise to create a supportive environment with a growth mindset. So the next time you want to say "Your presentation has too many slides," try something like "Your presentation is going in the right direction. If you could pare it down to 10 slides, it'd help keep the audience focused."
#6 Understand how US Americans socialize
Americans are very friendly, talkative, and smiling, and they often use first names even when they don't know the other person very well. They enjoy sharing and asking, but after some time, you may get to a 'hard pit' difficult to break. They are what is known as a 'peach culture' - soft on the outside, harder on the inside. This type of culture enjoys engaging in small talk, so make sure you get all the tips in the article Win at Small Talk: Surviving the First 5 Minutes of a Virtual Meeting.
#7 Be ready to debate but avoid sensitive topics
Avoid touchy subjects such as politics or religion, and do not make fun of their country. Outside of those taboo topics, Americans are usually open to discussion and hearing other people's opinions. Try not to get offended if they bluntly show disagreement around topics such as sports or best coffee in town. They are probably only sharing their thoughts and it does not necessarily mean that they do not respect yours. All in all, the US is a big and diverse country, and the level of confrontation varies depending on the area.
If you still need help to communicate effectively with other cultures, get in touch with Talaera. This article works as supporting material for our podcast episode on how to communicate better with US Americans. You can read the transcript below. Make sure you check out all our other Talaera Talks episodes and subscribe to get new episode alerts.
Talaera Talks - Transcript Episode 17
If you are learning English, including new English words and expressions will help you with effective communication. Remember to check out our other episodes on how to make small talk, how to deliver engaging presentations, how to speak English fluently, and many more: visit the podcast website. Listen to it on your favorite platform:
Welcome to Talaera Talks, the business English communication podcast for non-native professionals. My name is Paola and I am co-hosting this show with Simon. In this podcast, we're going to be covering communication advice and tips to help express yourself with confidence in English in professional settings. So we hope you enjoy the show!
Simon Kennell 0:24
All right, welcome back for another episode of Talaera Talks. We are in the middle of the summer. I'm Simon, and I'm here with my co host, Paola. Paola, how are you today?
Paola Pascual 0:37
Hi, Simon. I'm great. I feel we haven't done one of these longer episodes in a while.
Simon Kennell 0:42
Yeah, it's been a long while. It seems like the last time we spoke, we were both finishing up our master's degrees. And now we are both done. How does it feel to be free?
Paola Pascual 0:55
It feels good. I don't know if it's if it's soaked in yet, but it does feel good from what I can feel.
Simon Kennell 1:02
Yeah, well, I mean, yeah, I feel the same. We talked about a little bit before. And for me, it's Yeah, it's taking a little bit of time to set in, that I don't have to write anymore or use EndNote or yeah. Oh, yeah. References or all those things. So, you want to tell the people how you did? Did you do well or not?
Paola Pascual 1:24
Oh, no, no, it was really good. I'm very, very happy with the result. I know you also did amazing. So
Simon Kennell 1:30
I did okay, you know? Well enough. Yeah. Um, but uh, yeah, so so we're done with our theses. We're in the middle of the summer. And we have an exciting new series lined up for all of our listeners, right?
Paola Pascual 1:47
We do. So we'll go on with the little bits every month. We'll keep on doing that. But we have a new concept for Talaera Talks for the longer episodes, we will start this new series where we will share how to communicate with plus different cultures or nationalities. So today, we'll start with how to communicate with US Americans. And I'm very excited about it. We might invite also some, some people in upcoming podcasts. So that's very exciting.
Simon Kennell 2:18
Yeah, I think it'll be cool. This whole idea, we're going to be kind of getting into different national cultures and how that's going to shift how we communicate, and what things to watch out for. Right. And I think it's important when we kind of set an expectation here or preface this and saying, you know, we're talking about general communicative differences, we're not talking about principles. These aren't, you know, very strict things that we're drawing in the line here or saying yeah, you know, when you speak with all Americans and us Americans, you have to do X y&z that's not what we're saying. We're talking about, you know, specifically for this episode, we're talking about us Americans, and maybe some common communicative trends that you see that that you can help with and when you are approaching that, right, and, and I think on that point, I do want to point out that we are talking about when I say this, us Americans, what are we talking about? You know, a lot of people say just Americans, but really, if you say Americans, you could be talking about Canadians, you could be talking about Mexicans, you could be talking about anybody from Central America, South America, you know, so the Americas is a big landmass. Today, we're just talking about the United States of America.
Paola Pascual 3:35
Yes. And I really liked how you highlighted that these are not principles, but these are just general trends that we have observed. And from what from our own experience plus what we've read. That's very important to bear in mind. Shall we start with some fun facts about the States? I know most people are familiar with the US, but I don't know. Let's, let's give away. Yeah. Population, how many millions do we have?
Simon Kennell 4:08
We have 328 point 2 million people as of 2019. Wow. Okay. So we're talking about a group of multiple big populations and countries put into one thing called the United States of America. Yeah, that's, that's a huge group. So a lot of differences.
Paola Pascual 4:32
And do they share all the same language?
Simon Kennell 4:35
Ah, trip me up there. Actually, there is no official language of the United States. Of course, English is commonly spoken, but also Spanish, as well at the two big ones that are spoken in the United States. Yeah,
Paola Pascual 4:50
I remember when I traveled to South Southern California and I could hear much more Spanish than English. I was not aware of that.
Simon Kennell 4:59
Yeah. You know, and I mean, obviously, you're a fluent Spanish speaker pilot, but you know, I still got one poco from my Spanish class.
Paola Pascual 5:09
I didn't know you could fix Spanish
Simon Kennell 5:11
muscle man. That's literally the only two things I know.
Paola Pascual 5:19
It's good. It's really good. And so for this series, I just also want to give a bit of an overview of what it will be like. So we just shared a couple of fun facts, but we'll focus on communication, we'll start with some verbal aspects, and then nonverbal aspects. And then we've put together a list with some very specific tips of Okay, you're communicating with, with us Americans, specifically, not only but specifically in a business or professional context, what do we do?
Simon Kennell 5:52
Right, right. So let's Yeah, let's start with this. These verbal aspects. The first one is, yeah, direct communication. I mean, I think a lot of people know that you as Americans have this very direct form of communication. There's a reason for that, if you look historically, I mean, if we think about contrasting the US with Japan, you know, you have 1000s of years of assimilated culture in Japan, that was closed off for many years, and that that communication really developed into where you have this very indirect form where people can find these subtle differences. In the US, it's, it's different, right? We're talking about a nation of immigrants that really came together, everybody speaking different languages. So you had to really find that very clear, direct form of communication, right? very concise, very direct. And that's where we find that. So So yeah. So when the first thing is very, very much kind of direct. And it's important, you know, that, you know, maybe sometimes, because this direct communication, you might find that Americans may miss some nuances in different things in indirect communication. But when you can know when you're getting into this, yeah, communication with Americans, it's going to be much more direct, right? What about language styles?
Paola Pascual 7:11
Well, in general, I would say that Americans are very enthusiastic, very assertive, and very persuasive. And this, sometimes it's hard for other cultures to really understand what they mean. Because with that enthusiasm, you know, like, Oh, that's awesome. And they love that. Wow, amazing and awesome. And sometimes that just means, okay, so it doesn't mean that everything is actually wonderful. Or, Wow, that sounds fun. I love you know, my actually just mean, I'm not interested. Or if this was one, I remember when I lived in the states that when I would bump into a friend or friend, or we should hang out soon, it just means cool by doesn't mean that. So it's just a communication style, we actually will share a blog post where we'll detail common phrases like that, but might actually mean something else. It's just the way we communicate. And you
Simon Kennell 8:09
know, that's, I'm guilty of all. I think if anybody listens to our podcast, the first few I didn't necessarily realize how many times I say absolutely in a sentence or definitely awesome or amazing. But those were all in there, these upgraders right. So that's Yeah, very common.
Paola Pascual 8:29
Very to happen. modesty.
Simon Kennell 8:31
Yeah, so this is actually a little bit of it's one of these things that depends on where you come from on how you see this. But typically, American us American culture really prides itself on this individualistic component, right? So, you know, other cultures might see that as not being modest as being very maybe, like bragging or boasting, right? In Australia, they have this concept of the tall poppy gets cut down, right, same in Japan, they have a similar thing like that. So but in the US, I think a big part of American culture, US American culture is that we focus on individualism being the, you know, one of the big drivers for success. So that may be something if you're in a conversation and someone's you know, I did this and I did that in 10 hours or something, you know, you'd be like, oh, wow, that's this guy won't stop talking about how much stuff is done.
Paola Pascual 9:30
Right, but it's just the way, yeah.
Simon Kennell 9:34
Absolutely. There I go again, saying Absolutely. Okay. What about silence?
Paola Pascual 9:42
I, I love this one actually. So I'm okay with silence myself, but I noticed that the people I usually hang out with from the states are not okay with it. So, silence is uncomfortable for most Americans. Would you agree?
Simon Kennell 9:59
Yeah. I think we've, we've talked about this before. The silence, like the pause in the conversation where people sit and think I physically, you know, my palms get sweaty. I mean, do you feel that at all?
Paola Pascual 10:16
myself? Not that much, but I do have friends. And sometimes we've been hanging out or traveling and perhaps some a little bit quiet and they could tell they sometimes have told me. Are you okay? Is everything okay? Yeah, it's fine. So I'm okay with Thailand, but I can see how other people might not be that comfortable with it.
Simon Kennell 10:36
Yeah, that's that's exactly how it goes.
Paola Pascual 10:39
Right? All right. So those are we talked about how Americans or us Americans tend to communicate more directly. And they have a very enthusiastic way of communicating things. They use all these upgraders like, absolutely. Awesome.
Simon Kennell 10:58
Paola Pascual 10:59
sometimes. And then for other cultures, they might not come across as very modest. Also, what we said, and that usually they are not big fan, so pauses and silences.
Simon Kennell 11:15
Paola Pascual 11:17
So those are all verbal aspects. What about the non-verbal aspects?
Simon Kennell 11:21
Okay, so this is where it gets a bit more interesting, I think when we talk about eye contact. You know, this is interesting as well with different cultures is in the US, eye contact is really important. We get taught this growing up that maintaining eye contact shows that you're being honest, and that your tell Yeah, you're telling the truth, and that you're approachable. Whereas in other cultures, this could be seen as somewhat rude. Especially in some in some Eastern Asian cultures, this could be seen as somewhat rude. I mean, what do you feel about that? Is this something that in Spain, is it is it seen the same way?
Paola Pascual 12:03
I would say there are not big differences. So people also maintain eye contact. I feel it also has to do a bit with maybe with power dynamics. So for example, in Asia, it's a high power. In most Asian cultures, they do have this high power culture where there's a hierarchy and then looking straight into their into the other person's eyes might be rude. But then in the States, everyone's a little bit more equal. And that's why it's totally fine to look at each other in the eye. So that makes a lot of sense.
Simon Kennell 12:40
Yeah. How about physical contact? And like personal space? This is a weird one, especially in professional settings, right? If you're meeting a client for the first time, or something like that, What's that like?
Paola Pascual 12:54
This one, because of this one, I had a massive cultural shock when I moved from the states to Spain, because I was used to having my personal space. And then I didn't have you know, I didn't even think of it, but your personal spaces, it's bigger or larger than in other countries. So moved to Spain, Mediterranean, very warm. Everyone's super nice, but it is true that the personal space is much smaller. So yeah, the US American stand tends to keep distance, and touching someone, especially from another gender can be dangerous.
Simon Kennell 13:28
Yeah, that's, yeah, that's definitely something especially in a professional context, you just, it's better not to take the chance, right? is, if you're not sure, just, you know, yeah, let's see what the other person does. First, should I go for the handshake? Or the hug? or what have you just? Yeah, you know, of course, don't be rude. But, yeah, it's kind of one of those things, you have to play, play it out.
Paola Pascual 13:58
Mirror, the other person usually helps. But for example, in I think things are changing. And as the world gets more globalized, things are more similar across the globe. But I could see how in Spain, for example, it's okay to pat someone on the back. And that's physical contact, but in other countries, that's not acceptable. So it's just best not to risk it.
Simon Kennell 14:20
Yeah. I mean, I've been in cultures where it's the Yeah, the physical contact has exceeded what I'm used to. And that was very kind of, whoa, you know, when I lived in Saudi Arabia, I had men that would, you know, just, it's a very cultural thing, we would want to just hold my hand, you know, when we were walking down the street, and, you know, for me, it was like, Oh, my God, you know, the inside was like, I don't know what's happening, like, you know, but, uh, that's just something that culturally you get used to, and yeah, it becomes much more normal.
Paola Pascual 14:52
Yeah. And in terms of gestures and face and smiling?
Simon Kennell 14:59
Yeah. So this one is also very interesting around, you know, Americans, I think, because there is this kind of idea of, you know, honesty and openness in the eye contact, you know, we also want to show that we're, we're honest and we're open and one of the best way to do that is smiling. I mean, smiling is universal. And this is also this is very common this Yeah, smiling when passing strangers on the street, or just like a simple gesture of like, you know, Hey, how's it going? Which doesn't actually mean, we want to know how you're doing. Hi, you know, and me now living in Denmark on the street, I still find myself just, you know, smiling and whatever, to strangers, and people are looking at me like...
Paola Pascual 15:45
He's a little cuckoo, yeah.
Simon Kennell 15:47
Paola Pascual 15:49
This is something that I'm also on the very smiley kind of spectrum. And when I've interacted with other cultures, where a smile is not such a social thing, for example, Russia, I, I really get along with my Russian students. And it's such a good connection. But at the beginning, I didn't really understand their nonverbal communication, because they would be quite serious. And for them, it was just a neutral, friendly kind of environment. But it was, it was a bit of a shock.
Simon Kennell 16:20
Yeah. And I think, you know, that's so right. In business, especially so much of what we do is about how we're establishing trust at the beginning. You know, if you're listening to this, and this is maybe a new concept, I would look up, how is trust established in different cultures and in Russia, trust is not established in this way of just, you know, smiling to each other. And I, you know, there's, it's established in different ways. So that might be something to look at.
Paola Pascual 16:47
Oh, that's a very good point, establishing trust in different cultures. Love that.
Simon Kennell 16:51
Yeah. So so let's get into these last three big tips. We talked about the verbal and nonverbal, American us American communication, si, so let's talk about these big tips that you can walk away with, I think, number one is, when you're doing business in the US, or when you're working with a US American, think about time as money, this is very important, you know, everything is about maximum efficiency, especially when we're communicating, it's about cutting to the chase. And even in, if you're coming from a European context, this might seem very different. Because in the US, when we grow up, we're taught, you know, to use this inductive, rather than detective you know, especially when doing a presentation or something like that. So that means, first thing you do is say what you're going to tell them, then you tell them, then you tell them what you just told them, right. So it's all about these main points very fast. Whereas in Germany, you know, it's very different. We, we this deductive reasoning of starting with, this is the beginning the established and then I'm using the facts, and then I'm slowly building up to my main point, the US it's, you turn that triangle upside down, right?
Paola Pascual 18:06
This is a very valuable tip. So I guess if you're putting together a presentation for an American audience, you want to start exactly with what you said, Tell them what you're going to tell them, then you tell them, and then you tell them why you told them.
Simon Kennell 18:21
And that's the thing is, if you think you're being redundant, or repetitive, you know, really what you're doing is communicating effectively to an American audience. And I think that's, that's the big difference there. Very good. Yeah. And so you know, this being concise, right, money is time. Time is money. Sorry. And then yeah, I mean, I think one point that I always thought was very interesting was Steve Jobs. He was always very big about simplification. And even in his communication, and he had this thing at Apple where it said, like, simplify, and then it crossed it out. And then it's simplified. cross out, simplify, right? So I think maybe that, you know, get to the point, right? So what about feedback, this is our second big tip feedback.
Paola Pascual 19:07
Um, so we said before that Americans are us Americans are assertive. That means they do say what they saying and they, they're not shy. But that is mixed with a very interesting way of providing feedback. So they tend to use a lot of positive words in their, in their communication, so you sometimes have to read through it. They like to pepper in small compliments. So other cultures might see that as fake, but it's just a way of not being too confrontational. It's a way of softening the message. So yes, they are honest, and they provide feedback, but you might have to understand that they may use some positive words to tell you something negative.
Simon Kennell 19:50
Right, right. And this could again, when we talk about the US in such a huge country, there are also differences in the US where I'm from in the south, where To be much more kind of it's an expression, kill them with kindness. You know, we're really saying all this positive things, you know? And whereas that might be a little bit different in the north, that's much more direct, right?
Paola Pascual 20:12
Yes. And there's this sandwich technique. I'm not sure if that's still used. But it's where you're taught how to first say something nice, then you give the negative feedback, and then you end with something nice. Not sure if that's still the way but if you identify that pattern, then be able to pick up that Alright, this is maybe not that positive.
Simon Kennell 20:31
I should really focus on is the middle point.
Paola Pascual 20:34
Exactly. And we have one more tip, right?
Simon Kennell 20:38
Yeah, our last one, we're talking about social situations. So if you're doing business in the US, maybe you're going out for a drink or going out for a meal after the work day with your American colleagues. You're in this. Yeah, you're you're in this situation where you're needing not to talk about work, but just more kind of social. But there are some tips here that you should be aware of right?
Paola Pascual 21:03
I remember when we talked about small talk, how we, we talked about the difference between peach cultures and coconut cultures? Not sure if if our listeners have checked that out, check that one out. But I would say Americans are a peach culture, which means right at the beginning, they're kind of or they seem, it seems like they give trust easily. But then you get to this hard period where they might also revoke it just as quickly.
Simon Kennell 21:31
Yeah, that's so true. It's very welcoming, open, everything is great. And then it's out of nowhere. You know, we talk about these sensitive topics that you should avoid. That's where you're going to hit that hard spot. If you talk about is the dinner table rule really, politics, sex and religion? Just, you know...
Paola Pascual 21:50
Simon Kennell 21:50
Yeah, you can't, when they're just full with those, you know, that can that can stir up a lot of things, especially you don't want to do that in a professional context. So I think that's something to watch out for.
Paola Pascual 22:06
Awesome. Anything else we have for today?
Simon Kennell 22:08
I think that is it for today. We just gave our listeners a crash course in communicating with us Americans. And hopefully, you know, now that things are opening up, and there's a bit more travel happening, that anybody doing business in the US now may get something out of this.
Paola Pascual 22:27
Love it. And if you have if you're listening, you have any feedback. We're also happy to take that in. You can just write up write us at firstname.lastname@example.org. And yeah, we're happy to learn more.
Simon Kennell 22:41
Absolutely, yeah. If you have any tips, or if you want us to focus maybe on your country or something like that. I mean, you know, that could be really fun. Again, we're gonna see how this series goes and see what the feedback is on it. And yeah, we're excited to get started with it. So I hope you enjoyed this first episode about Yeah, how to communicate with us Americans.
Paola Pascual 23:04
Simon Kennell 23:06
I did too. And I can say absolutely, and really mean it here. So
Paola Pascual 23:11
awesome. Very nice. All right.
Simon Kennell 23:14
I'll talk to you soon. All right, Paul. Have a good one.
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