Strawberry Creek, as seen between Dwinelle Hall and Lower Sproul Plaza.Image from Wikipedia

Mike Thomas, who reviews business related books, reviewed ours, which has just come out in January 2008. I have to express my appreciation for his review, which like the other review we got (see the post on my blog) was unsolicited by us; however, we are grateful that he got it! he understood the purpose of writing this book. Even though I have lived here for more than 26 years, I still make (some smaller…..) mistakes. Oh do I wish that I had had this kind of information when I came back to the US (UC Berkeley) as a young adult, I would have avoided making an a…of myself many times.

Book Review: Communicating the American Way

Communicating the American Way, by Elisabetta Ghisini and Angelika Blendstrup, Ph.D., provides foreign workers moving – and working in – the States with an accurate snapshot of American business culture.

But Ghisini and Blendstrup could just as well be reminding American professionals on how they should conduct themselves.

Ghisini and Blendstrup admit the first chapter that their book is “very Silicon Valley-centric in terms of the conventions and mannerisms it describes.” This statement alone counters any “that’s not how it happens in my neck of the woods” argument coming from any Americans who read the book.

The authors provide a good snapshot of U.S. business (and cover a lot of ground) in Chapter 2. The running theme in Chapter 2 is that time is absolutely everything, as is evident when they write “American culture is dominated by a dynamic – some would say relentless – pace of life, especially on the east and West coasts.” That’s certainly true for many regions of the U.S. – particularly large metro areas like New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Chicago. That regionally disputable point , however (for smaller cities like Savannah, Binghamton and Billings), is addressed in Chapter 1.

They also illustrate a sample of the inane small talk that’s as cliche` (e.g. how are you/great/let’s do lunch) as it is necessary in networking and making business pleasantries. I like the space they leave for the reader to write down their interpretation of a sample exchange so they can compare it with the “actual” interpretation supplied by Ghisini and Blendstrup. This brief exercise is designed to contrast their readers’ native culture with that found in the U.S.

Therein lies the sole area of improvement I found with their otherwise fine book. In their future collaborations, I’d like to see more of these exercises, preferably at the end of each chapter. In this way, readers can be given immediate opportunities to practice what they have just read, thus solidifying the recently digested information. Ghisini and Blendstrup may wish to consider including an interactive CD in future editions of Communicating to provide this valuable learning opportunity.

The authors provide some tips on how to give a U.S. style presentation in Chapter 4. And, while Ghisini and Blendstrup present many valid presentation pointers, they also accurately note that public speaking styles are difficult to teach – and learn – using the written word. There are many resources available from which to choose when attempting to build and hone public speaking skills, such as Dale Carnegie, Toastmasters and even hiring a pro for one-on-one coaching.

Chapters 5 and 6 (”How to Hold Productive Phone and Conference Calls” and “How to Use E-Mail Effectively”) are, like the chapters preceding them, geared for foreign workers coming to the U.S., but should be mandatory reading for professionals born and raised in the States. Hey – who hasn’t dealt with unproductive phone calls and time-wasting emails? If every professional in the U.S. read just these two chapters, productivity and efficiency would skyrocket.

Despite this book’s target audience (those from other countries who are coming to work in the U.S.), there are points Ghisini and Blendstrup make that American businesspeople would do well to remember:

  • Do You Really Need a Meeting?
  • Scheduling
  • Logistics
  • Agenda
  • How to conduct a meeting

…Unfortunately, too many businesses – and business people don’t follow these simple concepts.

Ghisini and Blendstrup pack a lot of information into the last few chapters, including the U.S. style of job interviews, dealing with American media, talking like a leader, and the reasons for – and methodologies of – networking.

Communicating the American Way is an excellent book on several different levels. As mention above, most of the topics and advice could very well be aimed at American workers (who could learn a thing or two from this book). Second, the authors make excellent use of contrast by comparing the prototypical U.S. business culture with the those in other countries. Third – and perhaps most the most satisfying – Ghisini and Blendstrup address the arguments one might have and address them accordingly. Finally, it’s well-organized, well-researched and well written.

Hey – it better be. American workers, after all, don’t have time to deal unorganized, poorly written books.

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