A Guide to Conducting Yourself in American Business Meetings

A Guide to Conducting Yourself in American Business Meetings

You might be the star of the business meetings in your country, but in the U.S. your usual charming attitude may be perceived as offensive, or even just plain lazy.

This is because the U.S. workplace runs very differently. Time is money in America, so you have a very short duration to impress your superiors, clients, and colleagues.

It’s only natural that as a newcomer, you’re a little behind in the corporate race, because the people around you already know the unspoken rules of acing American business meetings.

Here are some tips you can use to bridge the divide between you and your coworkers.

1. Dress to impress

First impressions are very important. Your clothes are essential in conveying your personality to your clients and superiors.

Your attire should be formal. Men must wear a suit and tie, and women can wear either a suit or a skirt with a plain blouse. Play it safe and stick to the traditional color palette with darker shades. 

Do not overlook your shoes. Make sure your shoes are polished. Carry a cloth, in case your shoes get dirty on the way.

Spilling something on yourself is always a possibility that can ruin your meeting, especially when you’re wearing a white or cream shirt. Always carry a spare shirt or blouse.

2. Greet them with a firm handshake

It’s common business etiquette in America to shake hands in a meeting. Americans take this ritual very seriously. A handshake conveys a lot about the person.

Here’s how you can perfect this handshake: Keep your hands dry, as no one wants to shake a sweaty hand. Carry a handkerchief and use it if you need to. You can even use some talcum powder right before your meeting to help soak up the moisture.

Your handshake should be firm, strong, and confident. Do not let your nervousness get in the way. Trembling hands show that you’re ill-prepared.

Be ready for the ‘power handshake.’ You might come across someone who pushes your hand down while shaking it. This is their way of imposing superiority.

This can be a little insulting. Take control back by moving your left leg forward about three cm, and then putting your right arm back into the original position.

3. Steer clear of politics and religion

It is common for Americans to start their meetings with casual conversations or pleasantries before they get down to real business.

Stick to personal information, sports, and other casual topics. Do not discuss religion or politics, even if other people are.

Like every other country, the political and religious climate of the U.S. is very complex and diverse. You can unintentionally hurt someone’s feelings and damage professional relations. So, to be safe, keep your views to yourself.

4. Let them know what you’re thinking

In American work culture, meetings are generally conducted in the form of an open house. So, there is a lot of back and forth.

Do not be a silent spectator in your meeting, this can cause you to come across as disinterested. In some countries, like Japan, it is common to remain silent and brood over what has been said. But, in the U.S., you are expected to participate.

Don’t obsess over hierarchies. If you’re invited to a meeting, it means your opinions are valued. Speak freely, but politely.

Keep in mind that the ultimate decision belongs to your boss. So, don’t be surprised if they don’t consider the points made by you and your peers.

5. Be a little early

If the meeting starts at 8:00 A.M., be there at 7:50. When Americans say 8:00 A.M., they mean 8:00 A.M.

Showing up late can make you look irresponsible, and if the meeting is very important, you might face disciplinary action. 

Showing up a little early and prepping for the meeting, however, conveys the exact opposite message. It shows that you’re a reliable and dedicated employee.

6. Bring your go-get-them mentality to the table

In some cultures, taking your time to make a decision shows that you’re serious, hardworking, and not impulsive. If you come from such a culture, leave that mentality at home.

If your boss points at you and asks you, “do you agree?” be confident and reply with a yes or no answer followed by a short, logical justification. Try not to let hesitance seep in.

Quick judgment and decisiveness show that you are confident, attentive, and possess leadership skills.

7. Give them their space

American body language is hard to tackle. In a meeting, people will smile at you a lot, and they expect you to smile and nod, too. A smile is generally an indication that the meeting is going well.

Once you have built a rapport, the formal handshake might turn into a hug or a pat on the back, but not always. Americans value their personal space, and usually do not engage in casual physical contact.

It’s best that you do not initiate any physical contact like a hug or a kiss on the cheek. Be careful even when you’re just sitting and standing around other people.

Do not stand right behind them if they’re sitting. It can make the other person feel suffocated. Maintain the distance of an arm when standing next to people. If you’re seated beside someone, don’t lean in too much.

Be conscious of the body language of the other person. If you sense any hesitancy from the other person, immediately back off.

8. Keep your phone out of sight

While you may feel the urge to carry your phone everywhere, your business meeting is just not the right place.

If you do bring in your phone, keep it on silent and in your coat pocket. Do not put the phone on the table.

Using your phone during a meeting shows that you’re a discourteous employee. If you’re waiting for an important message, ask the receptionist to take the message for you.

If you have to check your phone, be very discreet and do it under the table. Don’t let anyone find out. Ensure that the screen brightness is low. If there’s an emergency and you have to receive a call, let your superior know, and leave the meeting as quietly as possible.  

Confidence will get you a long way in the U.S. If you believe you’re reliable, your superiors will too. But, don’t mistake confidence for arrogance. Prepare well for your meetings and believe in yourself. If you’re invited to a meeting in the U.S., you are already a valued employee whose opinions matter. Follow these tips for a successful meeting experience.

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