In US-American companies, quite a few meetings take place every week with the goal of bringing everyone up to speed. Usually, these meetings are brief, efficient and team-oriented. Therefore, it’s best to keep your input short and focused on the result. Don’t wander off-topic.
At times, there are meetings for project design or new concept development that involve everyone on a team. These typically have a positive and motivating atmosphere.
Always be on time for a meeting with US business partners, but don’t be surprised if you are the first one in the conference room five minutes before the meeting is supposed to start.
Should you arrive late, sit down quickly with a quiet apology to the room—unless that would interrupt a speaker. Interruptions are considered very distracting. This also applies to ringing mobile phones! If necessary, you may offer an explanation to the meeting organizer at the conclusion of the meeting.
Expect the meeting to finish on time.
There will be a general, high-level agenda for a meeting and the topics are discussed one after another. If an agenda has been sent out before the meeting, it’s expected that everyone is prepared accordingly!
Depending on the corporate culture, an agenda can include very precise timing. If the meeting is all about developing new ideas and plans together, then it may not be as strict, to allow for the free flow of ideas.
Participants and seating order
The topic determines the participants in a meeting and all of those participants are directly involved. Others may be informed verbally or via memos on a need-to-know basis that are sent afterwards. Like in many other business situations the US-American motto is: Time is money. Thus, only the key stakeholders will spend his or her time sitting in the meeting.
There are no hard rules regarding a specific seating order, although those who are expected to speak the most are seated closest to the meeting organizer, or toward the front of the room if there will be a presentation. If in doubt, just wait until someone shows you where to sit.
For US-Americans, if the participants do not all know each other, it is normal to ask each participant to identify their role or area of responsibility in the company. Titles are usually downplayed, so if you aren’t sure of a person’s exact role, don’t be shy, just ask.
Communication in US-American meetings is subject-oriented, polite and friendly. Although you might call your US-American business and project partners easy-going, they value formal etiquette in meetings.
US-Americans pretty much say directly what they think and they also mean what they say. So you don’t have to read between the lines. All their verbal statements should be clearly understandable.
If a project is to be planned, US-Americans will first work out an overall goal. Then they’ll break it into achievable components by functional area or milestone timing, or both. Each action item is assigned to an owner who will then report on their area of responsibility to the group in future meetings and communications.
US-Americans prefer to approach a project in a way that results can quickly be seen and measured. Detailed planning of the individual steps is critical to a certain degree, but also allowing for suggestions and modifications along the way. From the US-American perspective, you cannot plan a project from start to finish from Day One. It is important to stay open to adjustments along the way. Their motto right from the beginning is: Think Big and Stay Agile!
US-Americans will often hold meetings to develop new concepts. Open consideration and enthusiasm for ideas team members contribute will keep the meeting running smoothly and motivate everyone to carry on. Don’t try to present a fully developed concept and expect your US-American colleagues to examine your ideas critically. Also, don’t confront them with too many critical comments on their ideas without concrete alternative suggestions. This would be considered extremely rude and negative.
When developing new concepts with US-Americans, phrase everything as positively as possible. From your point of view, it might be excessively positive! US-Americans show enthusiasm even for the smallest of things. Therefore, when communicating with US-Americans you should consider a different grading of the words you use: “Good” for example doesn’t mean anything more than mediocrity. If you think something is good, then you should say at least something like „That’s great!“ Should you think something is even better than that, use stronger expressions. Talk about “brilliant ideas“, “a fabulous outcome“, “outstanding teamwork”, “an excellent plan” or „fantastic results“. Should you get the feeling that you are exaggerating then this might be just right for US-Americans.
On the other hand, being too abrasive in your honesty can be seen as very rude and impolite. Before you say what you really think of something or even criticize an idea because you discovered some weaknesses in the arguments, you may want to temper your immediate response. It is considered polite to lead with something positive, and then raise your concerns. Try to express appreciation for the effort but also be honest and direct in your criticism or rejection.
In general, problems are dealt with in a positive manner. US-Americans view them as opportunities or challenges, with the solution being the most important goal. While people from other cultures might talk about ”severe problems”, US-Americans will tend to acknowledge ”a couple of issues” or “a slight concern“ – nothing more. This is because they keep an eye on the big picture and recognize that adjustments may be necessary along the way. Even more important, don’t look for the fault when facing a problem. Only look for solutions, as blame is not considered productive. Your conclusion should always be focused on moving forward and working toward the best possible outcome.
In return, you should be willing to listen. If US-Americans criticize your suggestion, they will tell you very politely and kindly –although directly – how their point of view differs. US-Americans are generally friendly but do not mistake that for indecisiveness or unwillingness to debate.
Whenever there is a clash of opinions during a meeting, the principle “hard on facts, soft on people” applies. Stay calm and matter-of-fact during discussions with US-Americans, and always maintain civility. Focus on new challenges that you will eventually overcome together.