US business meeting etiquette: 9 ways to have successful meetings

“It is better to remain quiet and be thought a fool than to speak and remove all doubt.” (Anonymous)

Martin was up next to be promoted to be the supervisor of his group; however, the signals he was getting from his co-workers let him know that they weren’t ready to work for him. Lately, he walked away from every meeting with a sinking feeling – he just didn’t know what he was doing wrong .

1. Here are some of the business meeting etiquette guidelines we worked out:

Don’t come into the meeting smelling of smoke and don’t walk out of meetings to light a cigarette.  No one wants to sit next to a human ashtray.

2. Use the meetings to get to know your co-workers.

Ask about personal interests, remember the answers and use them to connect again at the next meeting. This is a social protocol in the US and it’s also a way to establish real connections.

3. Let speakers in the meeting speak freely about their new ideas.

Don’t jump on people or imply that their message is stupid. Listen first and be kind in your comments.

4. Americans value time, so stick to the issues on the agenda.

5. Avoid personal confrontations.

If an argument seems unavoidable, use “I” messages. Not, “you made a mistake”, but, “it seems to me something went wrong” or, “this is how I interpret what happened” etc.

6. Group consensus building in the US is highly valued.

The process in meetings here is often slow and it can take a long time getting buy-in from everyone; this is often hard for Europeans. Patience is a must.

7. Don’t interrupt – this is not accepted here.

8. Don’t tell foreign jokes, they don’t work in translation.

9. Understand how to use US phrases, idioms and slang when communicating.

Certain expressions are commonly used in US meetings. You need to positive, non confrontational and approachable.

Use sentences such as:

Let me be sure that I understood what you just said…

If I heard you correctly…

It seems to me….I think…..

Don’t try to win an argument, solving a problem with a win/win outcome is valued.

On that topic, Lord Chesterfield said to his son:

“Be wiser than other people if you can, but do not tell them so.”

Even if you think yours is the right way, beware; or, as the Boston Transcript put it many years ago:

Here lies the body of William Jay

Who died maintaining his right of way

He was right, dead right, as he sped along,

But he’s just as dead as if he were wrong.

merican business etiquette

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