Here's one linguist's No. 1 tip for doing business with people in the UK

Photo: Christopher Furlong/ Getty.

As technology continues to connect workers across the seven continents, being aware of cultural differences becomes increasingly important.

To help companies like Sony, Deloitte, Unilever, and BMW understand and do business with different cultures, British linguist Richard D. Lewis founded CrossCulture, a coaching and consulting firm, and wrote “When Cultures Collide,” which has sold over one million copies.

“If you don’t understand the other culture, you can make mistakes,” Lewis says, “like mistaking UK ‘slowness’ as a negative.”

That’s why Lewis’s No. 1 tip for doing business with Brits is to keep in mind that they are less direct and tend to take longer to make decisions. “They’re not going to come out and say what they’re thinking,” he says. “They’re going to talk around it.”

Here are three other things you should know about negotiating with people in Britain, according to Lewis:

How and when to use humour to establish rapport with the British

Lewis says British people like to keep relations formal for the first two or three meetings, then they tend to ease up and become more informal, using first names, taking their jackets off, and even rolling up their sleeves, he explains.

They respect those who come to a meeting with witty remarks and relevant jokes, Lewis says, because they see humour as more than just a reason to laugh -- they also view it as a tool.

In a previous Business Insider article, Lewis said the British use humour for the following reasons, among others:

--to break tension;
--to speed up a discussion when excessive formality is slowing it down;
--to direct criticism toward a superior without getting fired;
--to introduce a new, possibly wild idea to unimaginative colleagues;
--to introduce the unexpected in over-rigid negotiation;
--and to laugh at overly elaborate or 'mysterious' management priorities and perspective in solemn corporate planning.

How to use understatements to make a proposal

After a comfortable rapport has been established, British business people will often make a 'reasonable proposal' -- something some Americans are not too familiar with and can mistake for a lack of enthusiasm, Lewis says.

Americans tend to overstate the proposal, he explains, with comments like: 'This is worth a million dollars!' and 'It's perfect for you!' -- while the British tend to understate the proposal with a comment like, 'It will do the job.'

'Just because they aren't oozing enthusiasm doesn't mean they aren't interested,' Lewis says. 'That's just the way they talk.'

How to get them to make a final decision

Once the proposal is on the table, Americans like to get down to business and promptly make a decision, Lewis says -- but the British are the opposite. They tend to skirt around their final answer with well-mannered jokes and anecdotes.

But don't mistake these understatements or diversions for a lack of interest. They usually know their final decision, but choose to be vague for as long as possible, Lewis says.

To get a final decision from them, Lewis suggests following their lead by being indirect and understated, just hinting at what you want, rather than being upfront about it. 'With the British, it pays to understate yourself,' he says.

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