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  • To Kiss Or Not To Kiss (On The Cheek): A Guide To Business Meetings with British Clients

    Whenever I speak with students who are preparing for their first meeting with a British client, or potential British client, it is amazing how often questions arise, not only about speaking English, but about etiquette and protocol. How should I act? What should I say? Should I kiss on the cheek?

    Here is an etiquette guide for a business meeting in Britain.

    1. Be on time.

    Punctuality is always appreciated in Britain. If you encounter some difficulty that you know will make you late for an appointment, it is advisable to ring and let the client know and to give them the opportunity to reschedule if necessary.

    2. Shake hands

    The British are known for being formal. It is known as their “stiff upper lip.” A handshake is more appropriate than a kiss on the cheek.

    3. Respect Personal Space

    Latin countries for example are known for their ‘close contact’ behavior such as touching arms or patting on the back. In Britain, it is better to maintain a respectable amount of personal space and apart from the initial handshake, refrain from close personal contact.

    4. Start With Some Small Talk

    While the British are formal in demeanor, a certain amount of ‘chat’ or informal communication is expected in meetings. This is called ‘breaking the ice’ and is appropriate at the start and maybe also at the end. For example, if you are visiting London, you can start by talking about the sights you have visited, the food you enjoyed, the itinerary of the rest of your trip etc. If the British person is visiting your city you can ask him/her about how they are enjoying themselves, their impressions of the city and make suggestions for sightseeing activities.

    5. Respect Boundaries

    While a certain amount of informal conversation is useful, try to limit it to yourself. Asking the client personal or private questions, especially about salary, is not considered appropriate.

    6. Respect Authority

    Remember that British society is hierarchical and that this applies also in business meetings. Allow the most senior staff members speak or make their presentations first.

    7. Know When To Call Person By A First Name

    If the client is at the same level as you in the staff hierarchy (e.g. if you are both managers), it is appropriate that you call him or her by a first name. If the client is more senior in hierarchy than you, it is advisable to start by referring to him/her, as Mr. or Ms. It is likely that you will be told: “Please call me David….or Sarah.” At this point, you can switch to using their first name.

    8. Don’t Interrupt

    Although you probably have a million questions and things you want to say, it is advisable to wait until the client is finished speaking before you begin speaking.

    9. Don’t Ramble

    The British appreciate clear, precise and succinct communication in life as in business meetings. Don’t ramble, don’t go off the point and don’t try to fill time.

    10. Use Humor and Realise When It Is Used

    The British are known for their ‘black’ humor, sarcasm and irony. This means that they might make a comment that is intended to make you laugh but this not might be obvious by their facial expression. It is a good idea to brush up on your irony before a business meeting in Britain!

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