America and Britain have a huge number of things in common, from popular culture to the language we speak. But how similar are we when it comes to work and business communication? Whether you’re communicating across the pond virtually through a USA phone number or you have international colleagues in your office, you’ve likely encountered some kind of communication issue at work.

 

We were interested to see where these issues arise. From how we see each other to what we say and what we really mean, we spoke to 1,000 US workers and 1,000 UK workers to find out just that.

 

How Brits and Americans See Each Other

Toll Free Forwarding UK Vs US-02

 

To start, we kept things simple. We wanted to know how both US and UK workers would describe themselves at work, compared to how they’d describe each other. This question turned up some interesting results, with Americans more likely to use words like ambitious, competitive, or driven to describe themselves, while Brits opted for words such as loud, arrogant, brash, and pushy. It’s clear that both sides see Americans as being driven at work, however, this may be perceived more negatively from UK colleagues, with one telling us they see Americans as “very overpowering and restless, with lots of expectations and not much patience”.

 

Toll Free Forwarding UK Vs US-04

 

Across the pond, Brits described themselves as easy going, friendly, and even lazy, while Americans thought they were hard-working and polite but stuffy, with one telling us “they work hard but can be a bit snotty at times. A lot of them tend to talk down to other people to make themselves feel superior”.

 

Toll-Free-Forwarding-UK-Vs-US-03

 

Americans describing AmericansBritish describing Americans
Hard-workingLoud
CompetitiveConfident
Ambitious/drivenArrogant
AnnoyingBrash
FriendlyFriendly
FunPushy

 

 

British describing BritishAmericans describing British
Easy goingFun/funny
FriendlyHard-working
HelpfulPolite
LazyStuffy or stiff
FunnyPassive-aggressive
BoringDry humor

 

 

US vs UK: How Do We Communicate Differently?

Our survey found that, across the board, Brits are more likely than Americans to take things negatively or see a subtext in casual communication. Americans, on the other hand, are most likely to take things literally and see the positives.

 

Take the innocuous statement “let’s do lunch soon”. Perhaps be careful throwing this into conversion with your UK colleagues, as only one-in-five (20%) people in the UK see this as a positive statement, compared to almost half (48%) of Americans who mean this positively. This could be due to the British habit of taking things less literally and looking for subtext in communications – they may feel this statement is blasé or dismissive rather than a genuine offer of lunch.

 

Similarly, the majority (59%) of Americans use “I hear what you’re saying” as a positive communication when discussing ideas at work – but only three-in-ten (30%) Brits agreed this was a positive statement. A British worker who is looking for subtext in communication could see this statement as dismissive and a prelude to a disagreement, while an American worker may take it as a more literal expression of respect.

 

Over half of Americans (55%) would use the phrase “that’s not bad” as a positive. Brits, however, were more likely to see a negative subtext in this statement, with only 39% agreeing it was a positive statement and one-in-five (20%) using this as a negative communication. Again, an American using this statement may be being very literal – if something is ‘not bad’, it is ‘good’. A Brit on the other hand may be politely using this phrase as a negative to mean something is not terrible, but it’s not particularly good either.

 

Toll Free Forwarding UK Vs US-01

 

US & UK Comms: What We Say and What We Mean

Continuing with the theme of subtext in business communication, we gave our US and UK respondents some sample phrases along with example perceptions, asking which they thought best matched up.

 

Three-in-four (76%) Americans would hear “that’s an interesting idea” at work and assume they were being told the idea is impressive. However, if a colleague from the UK is saying this, be aware that 32% are suggesting your idea is ‘ridiculous’.

 

Similarly, if a British colleague tells you they “have a few amends”, more than two-in-five (43%) are actually letting you know the work is awful and needs completely redoing. Only 34% of Americans would read this subtext, with the vast majority (66%) assuming they were being told there were only a few small typos.

 

Jamie Gelbtuch, founder of New York based company,

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