Conducting business in the United States? If it’s your first time traveling to America from Pakistan, the journey can be nerve-racking. You already have a lot of concerns on your mind, not to mention that you’re hoping you make a good first impression with your new employer or business partner. You don’t have to worry too much about that first impression with this guide. Learn how to present yourself in a business meeting in America with the following American customs you should know.
1. Most Americans Don’t Pray in Public
If you’re part of the Islam faith, you may be greeted with a culture shock when you come to America. But you don’t have to give up your customs. You should know that unless you ask for specific accommodations, many Americans won’t realize that you need them–simply because it is not part of their routine. When Americans do pray in public, they usually wait until they have a free moment, or they pray silently. Few will set aside a time for prayer during the business day.
However, if you let your business partners know ahead of time that you need a break for prayer or that you can’t meet with them on Friday, they should be more than accommodating.
2. Opposite Genders Shake Hands
In Pakistan, you may be used to only shaking hands with members of your same gender. In America, however, it is appropriate to shake hands with members of the opposite sex, especially in business meetings and when meeting someone for the first time. Women may hold higher status than men in American business meetings, so should she extend her hand, it is customary and polite to shake it. If you’re meeting with a small group of people, you may exchange handshakes with everyone present.
3. In a Business Meeting, Eye Contact is the Norm
In America, lack of eye contact during a business meeting or presentation is an indication that you are not paying attention. If you are the one giving the presentation, not making eye contact with your audience is seen as a sign of nervousness or low self-confidence. This can impact the way your audience perceives your professionalism and credibility. It does not matter who you are speaking with in the meeting–man, woman, or elder–eye contact is the norm. On the street, however, Americans generally avoid making direct eye contact with strangers, especially in larger cities.
4. Americans are Generally Punctual
Whether you’re headed to a business meeting, have a deadline, or are engaging in casual social activities, Americans are generally very punctual. The only exception is with casual parties. This is not usually the case with formal events like weddings, however. If you’re headed to a business meeting, it is best to arrive early–about 15 minutes or more is normal–so that others don’t have to wait for you. If you are given a deadline for a project, that project should be submitted before the deadline.
5. Using First Names is Common
You may not be used to using first names with others unless you are quite close. In America, even mere acquaintances will call each other by first name. This is true of most casual situations. However, when you’re conducting business, it is best to ask people how they would like to be addressed. Some business professionals prefer their first name while others will use their last name preceded by a title. These preferences will vary from person to person or between businesses based on their corporate policies.
6. Strangers Introduce Themselves
In America, there is no need for a mutual acquaintance to introduce you to someone. Strangers will do this on their own. In fact, some Americans may expect the stranger to introduce him or herself. You may even be greeted by people whom have no mutual acquaintance with you. For example, if you arrive early and are waiting for a business meeting to start, an individual next to you might introduce himself and engage in small talk. If he offers his hand, you will shake it. At this point, it is common to tell the stranger your name and position as well.
7. Americans Value Their Space
When talking with someone in America, getting more than an arm’s length away can make him or her uncomfortable. Avoid touching someone–even if it’s just a light brush of the arm–unless they touch you first. Getting close to someone or touching them is not something normally done until you’ve developed a strong, close relationship. Not only can this make the person you’re talking with uncomfortable, but getting to close can lead others to misinterpret your relationship.
8. Privacy is Important
Along with their space, Americans also value their privacy. If someone is on the phone, it’s best not to interrupt them. Wait until they’ve hung up to begin speaking. Also be conscious of closed doors. Avoid opening a closed meeting door unless you know you’re supposed to be in that room at that particular time. You may end up interrupting another group.
9. Meetings are Fast-Paced
When meeting with an American business professional, most of them expect to come out of the meeting with decisions and negotiations made. While that is not always the case–sometimes several meetings are critical–you can expect to be working in a fast-paced environment where business seems rushed and time is incredibly valuable.
10. Americans Often Conduct Business via Technology
Much of American business communication is done through technological means, such as video chat, email, or telephone. These communication channels are most often used when speaking one-on-one with a colleague or business partner or when there is very little decision to be made. Business meetings are often called when there are bigger issues to address or there are more people involved to make a decision. Expect much of your communication to not be in person and to be fairly fast-paced.
While some of these customs may make you uncomfortable, they are worth knowing–even if you don’t engage in them. The good news is that most American business professionals are understanding and will help make you feel comfortable if you speak with them about your own customs.