Although international industry analyst firms aim to use similar methods when writing their research, winning sales recommendations still means connecting with the ‘go-to’ analysts in national markets. I tend to recommend Kate Fox’s book, Watching the English, to those trying to cross the cultural divide when briefing industry analysts here.
Fox is an Oxford-based anthopologist who is better known for her studies of English behavior at the race course and in the pub. It is popularly written, well structured and thoroughly researched. Fox goes deeper than the usual observations about Britain being, like Japan and France, a rather high context culture. She picks up three sets of attributes which might especially hamper those from low context cultures, like the US and Germany, who try to build rapport with analysts in the UK.
- Reflexes in British culture include humor, moderation and hypocrisy. The first two are easier to work around. Humor is always on, even in rather formal business settings, and most interactions will be peppered with tepid humorous gambits: it’s quite unlike most other cultures. Moderation is also an obstacle: paradigm changes are seen as risky rather than bold; what is new is often untested. Hypocrisy is a key element of our ‘negative politeness’, in which not making the other person uncomfortable is often more important than being honest.
- The general outlook is empirical, and therefore seeks facts, proof and experience. Eeyore, Winnie the Pooh’s downcast friend, is a role model when it comes to the pessimistic and doom-laden scepticism of many English folks: perfectly confident projections of the future tend to be discounted. Class consciousness pervades organisations. Especially in London, many cosmopolitian organisations might be staffed largely, or even principally, by foreigners. Even in those businesses, an invisible pecking order will exist the classify the English (and a few French, who meritocracy provides metadata for mapping on to British class structures).
- The English value fair play, courtesy and modesty. Aggressive, winner-take-all, attitudes are often seen as blinkered, comic and dangerous. Courtesy is a major flaw of many visiting business people, especially in their assumption of hierarchies in analyst firms: I often see spokesmen ignoring women and younger analysts and addressing their comments to only the analyst they feel is most senior. Modesty is also likely to give rise to misunderstandings: because no-one likes a show off, the tendency here is to underplay one’s hand with irony. One might say that one ‘knows a little about semiconductors’, which could easily mean that the person is a leading authority on the subject. In the US, business people often open conversations by dropping names and terms to locate each other on a pecking order; because English analysts will often not spar in this way, and do not feel obliged to show what they know, US spokespeople might leave a meeting with a highly able analyst still unaware of that analyst’s knowledge and perceptions.
A link to her book is here.