American Business Customs
A Quick Guide to Conducting
Business in the USA
• Geert Hofstede™ Cultural Dimensions
1) Power Distance (PDI) - the extent to which the
less powerful members of organizations and
institutions accept and expect that power is
2) Individualism (IDV) - the degree to which
individuals are integrated into groups
(opposite of collectivism)
3) Masculinity (MAS) - versus its opposite,
femininity, refers to the distribution of roles
between the genders
4) Uncertainty Avoidance (UAI) - deals with a
society's tolerance for uncertainty and ambiguity
5) Long-Term Orientation (LTO) - versus short-
term orientation; values associated with long-
term orientation are thrift and perseverance;
values associated with short-term orientation
are respect for tradition, fulfilling social
obligations, and protecting one's 'face'
• How does the USA score?
• The low score for Power Distance is indicative of a
greater equality between societal levels, including
government, organizations, and even within families.
• The high Individualism ranking for the United States
indicates a society with a more individualistic attitude
and relatively loose bonds with others. The populace is
more self-reliant and looks out for themselves and their
close family members.
• The high Masculinity score indicates the country
experiences a higher degree of gender differentiation of
roles. The male dominates a significant portion of the
society and power structure. This situation generates a
female population that becomes more assertive and
competitive, with women shifting toward the male role
model and away from their female role.
• A low ranking in the Uncertainty Avoidance
Dimension is indicative of a society that has
fewer rules and does not attempt to control all
outcomes and results. It also has a greater level
of tolerance for a variety of ideas, thoughts, and
• The low LTO ranking is indicative of the
societies' belief in meeting its obligations and
tends to reflect an appreciation for cultural
• Very generally…
▫ America has a large and diverse culture with a
strong emphasis on freedom of expression
▫ Americans are generally polite but they will stand
up for what they believe
▫ They are not shy in voicing an opinion
▫ There is not much an American will not talk about
except possibly strong personal convictions such
▫ They love humor and sarcasm and can even joke
The Business Setting
The Wheres, Whens, and
• Built into the United States work concept is the
idea of the 'American Dream' that every
individual can succeed and prosper financially
by working hard.
• This idea contributes to a strong work ethic and
a system that is merit based [believing that hard
work deserves compensation].
• Americans work long hours, take, on average,
two weeks of vacation, and spend a lot of time
doing work-related travel.
• In the United States, business relationships are
formed between companies rather than between
• Americans do business where they get the best
deal and the best service.
• It is not important to develop a personal
relationship in order to establish a long and
successful business relationship.
• Do not enter into any contract without hiring a
• Americans are often uncomfortable with silence.
Silence is avoided in social or business meetings.
• Americans ask questions -- lots of them;
Americans will assume you understand
something if you do not tell them otherwise.
• Americans prefer directness in communication -
when Americans say "yes" or "no," they mean
• It is rude to interrupt someone who is talking.
Say, "Excuse me" during a pause and wait to be
• Americans put a great deal of value on the
written word; verbal contracts are rarely legally
• Good eye contact during business and social
conversations shows interest, sincerity and
• A smile is a sign of friendliness, and in rural
areas you may be greeted with a "hello" rather
than a handshake.
• Good friends may briefly embrace, although the
larger the city, usually the more formal the
• It is very important in written communication to
spell names correctly and have correct titles.
• Business conversation may take place during
meals. However, many times you will find more
social conversation taking place during the
• Gift giving is discouraged or limited by many US
companies. A gracious written note is always
appropriate and acceptable.
• Business meetings may be arranged as breakfast
meetings, luncheon meetings, or dinner
meetings depending on time schedules and
• Little business is conducted on Sundays. This is
the standard day of worship for many religions.
If your stay in the U.S. is short, however, your
American business counterparts may arrange to
do business on this day.
• When you are doing business in the United
States, you must be on time; being "on time" in
business situations generally means being about
five minutes early.
• It is very important to meet deadlines - people
who miss deadlines are viewed as irresponsible
• Meetings are generally informal and relaxed in
manner, but serious in content.
• Be prepared to begin business immediately, with
little or no prior small talk.
• A meeting is only considered successful if
something concrete is decided or accomplished.
• Participation is expected in meetings. A quiet
person may be viewed as not prepared or as
having nothing important to contribute.
• Men: Business suit and tie are appropriate in all
• Women: Women should wear a suit or dress
with jacket in major cities.
• Rural areas and areas with extremely warm
summers have more informal wardrobe
• The best approach is to be conservative until you
have had a chance to observe what others wear
in an office.
• Generally, there is one negotiation leader who
has the authority to make decisions. Team
negotiations are rare.
• Americans may begin negotiations with
unacceptable conditions or demands. They are
usually taking a starting position that gives them
room to bargain.
• The goal of most negotiations in the United
States is to arrive at a signed contract.
• Long-term relationships and benefits may not be
the main objective; the immediate deal may be
the only important issue.
• Negotiations may seem rushed to you.
Remember that "time is money" to Americans.
• In general, people from the U.S. will not hesitate
to answer "no." Businesspeople are direct and
will not hesitate to disagree with you.
Individual Business Cultures
• Regional background should be taken into
account when learning about American
• Individual factors including industry, business
structure, management, and business mission
also play a strong role in shaping an individual
• Those wishing to do business with specific
companies should invest additional time
researching individual business culture through
corporate literature, marketing, and websites.