Cross Cultural Differences (Where You Wouldn’t Expect Them): Doing Business in the US, the UK, Canada, and Australia/NZ

Members Click Here for Additional Tools

Get Instant Access to 200+ Cheat Sheets, Videos, and Other Immediately Usable Tools for Busy Managers – Try Out a Wily Manager Membership Today!

People have increasingly raised their awareness of Cross-Cultural Differences in the past couple of decades – particularly where those Cross-Cultural Differences are obvious and well defined.  But what about Cross-Cultural Differences that are more difficult to spot?  Below we discuss Cross-Cultural Differences that may occur between the seemingly similar nations of:

  • The United States
  • The United Kingdom
  • Canada
  • Australia
  • New Zealand

Specifically, we talk about:

  • Why you should care about Cross-Cultural Differences between these countries.
  • Comparison of Cross-Cultural Differences of these countries on 5 different dimensions.

Why Care About Cross-Cultural Differences?

On the surface, many people may be hard-pressed to identify any significant differences between these countries.  However, people that have worked in more than one of these places will testify as to the multitude of Cross-Cultural Differences.  Further, the Wily Manager website and podcast audiences come overwhelmingly from these five countries.  Even if your organization does not do business internationally, you may have people you work with that come from one of these other countries.

When managing Cross-Cultural Differences, it is often easier when the other culture is substantially different so the potential points of conflict or difference can be identified and mitigated.  In many cases, it is much more difficult when the Cross-Cultural Differences you are trying to bridge originate from an American working in Canada, for example.

Caveats to this Discussion of Cross-Cultural Differences:

  • We make many generalizations about these countries, and the people that come from them.  Inevitably these generalizations will not apply to every person in every situation.
  • The content below are merely observations, not evaluations.
  • If you are from one of these countries, you will almost certainly be offended by at least one of our assessments below.
  • NOTE:  The Wily Manager guys have worked in all of these countries except New Zealand — an oversight we’d like to correct!  For now, we’ll take comfort in our numerous visits to NZ.

Cross-Cultural Differences in Managing Conflict

  • Canada & NZ: Both these nations produce chronic avoiders of conflict.  Their history is littered with examples of keeping the peace at any cost.  In many cases, this has served them both well.  In the context of business, avoiding conflict is an unhealthy response to a situation.
  • United States:  Americans are much more prone to surfacing disagreement, and dealing with it.  While others may find this approach confrontational, conflict is often resolved more quickly, and more permanently.
  • UK & Australia: These two countries most often find themselves between the two extremes noted above.

International Awareness

An individual’s awareness of the rest of the world will influence how she conducts herself at work.  Specifically, it can make dealing with Cross-Cultural Differences easier or more difficult.

  • The US and Canada
    • Most North Americans are typically unaware of what happens outside of North America.
    • Many Americans and most Canadians will disagree with this assessment, which can be quickly be proven by asking them to name the Prime Minister of Australia or New Zealand.  Further, until recently less than 10% of Americans, and less than 25% of Canadians held a passport.
    • The majority of North Americans have never left the continent.
  • The United Kingdom
    • The British are (sometimes reluctantly) connected to Europe, as well as to the Commonwealth and the United States.  As such, they have a broader sense of the world.
  • Australia and New Zealand
    • The remoteness of these two nations creates a greater need to look outwards.  Many (if not most) Aussies and Kiwis (those from New Zealand) spend months or years abroad

Water Cooler Chat

Those topics that are considered appropriate or inappropriate in a professional setting can be some of the best examples of dealing with Cross-Cultural Differences.  Below is an assessment of how likely people are to talk about religion and/or politics in a work setting:

  • Canada & New Zealand – Discouraged in business settings.  Such conversation would normally be avoided or minimized in work settings.
  • Australia & UK – The Aussies and the British are only slightly more likely to talk about such things in business settings.
  • United States – In many American workplaces, it would not be unusual or inappropriate to be asked what church you attend, or who you might be most likely to vote for.

Tolerance for Authority and Government

How people view authority and government is a key factor in managing Cross-Cultural Differences:

  • The United States – Americans are more focused on the individual and individual freedoms than any of the other countries compared here.  The fact that this nation was born out of rejection of authority and government is still obvious in how business is conducted today.
  • Australia – Much like the US, Australia is a product of its history.  The individualism is not as strong as it is for Americans, but Australia has a proud independent streak that is obvious in business settings.
  • United Kingdom – The British have a strong respect for their institutions, although in the past 30 years, there have been significant tests of authority and government by its citizens.
  • Canada & New Zealand – Once again, the Canadians and the Kiwis are grouped together as people that have relative tolerance for authority and government.  This is not to say that people do not disagree, but compared to the other three countries, these two have the most respect for authority and government.

Time off

If you work with people from one of the other profiled countries, you will notice almost immediately their expectations and attitudes about time off.

  • The United States:  Americans get very little time off — in many cases only two to three weeks per year.
  • Canada: Canadians only get marginally more time off than their American neighbors.
  • United Kingdom, New Zealand and Australia: These three countries have much more time off than the North Americans.  Many employees have six to ten weeks of holiday (vacation) time.  There are also many more statutory holidays than are found in the United States.

Three Things to Remember About Managing Cross-Cultural Differences

  1. Just because someone may look and sound like you, they may have a vastly different life experience.
  2. There is nothing wrong with discussing cultural differences, as long as you do it with sensitivity.
  3. You don’t have to travel, or do business internationally to need cross-cultural skills.

Watch the ’3-Minute Crash Course’ about Cross Cultural Differences (CLICK THE ARROW TO START THE VIDEO):

Looking for the Full-Length Podcast/Video? …

Get Instant Access to 200+ Cheat Sheets, Videos, and Other Immediately Usable Tools for Busy Managers – Try Out a Wily Manager Membership Today!