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Doing business in the US: Do you know what your partners know about you?

Whether you’re preparing to negotiate a deal with a distributor, make a pitch to a group of investors, or exhibit at a trade show, it's crucial that you have clarity on your counterparts’ knowledge of you and your culture and any preconceived notions they may have.

If you want to do business in the US, or any other foreign market, you need to be able to communicate effectively with your business partners. Your success hinges on your ability to build relationships and trust - and that happens largely via communication. You'll need advanced language skills, good people skills, and an in-depth understanding of how things are done in the new market.


As you present yourself and your company and conduct your meetings and negotiations, there is something else that can really help you: understanding your counterparts’ knowledge and preconceptions -

Conversation with question mark indicating lack of understanding
  • what your business partners and clients know (or think they know) about you,

  • what they think about you, and

  • how you are perceived as a member of your country and culture.

It’s important to gain clarity on your counterparts' beliefs and attitudes, because they influence how people approach you, what they expect, what they hear when you speak, and how they interpret what you say.

What others know, or think they know, and how they feel about you can strongly influence the flow and outcome of conversations.

US perceptions of Austria - a few examples

In the many years that I have lived and worked in the United States, both in academia and in the business world, these are some of the responses and reactions I have repeatedly come across when I say that I’m originally from Austria.

From people who have never been to Austria:

  • Australia: It still happens fairly frequently that people hear Australia instead of Austria. Austria is simply not at the top of people’s mind, especially when they don’t hear a German accent in your English.

  • Germany: People may not have much knowledge about Austria, so Austria and Germany are often lumped together. German characteristics are projected onto Austrians. This extends to confusion about the language spoken. (I wrote a blog about this a little while ago.)

  • Arnold Schwarzenegger and Mozart.

  • Austria's dark history.

People who have visited Austria often mention these things:

  • Beautiful country with historic cities and palaces. Stunning countryside for hiking and skiing. Everything is so “neat”.

  • Wonderful Christmas markets. Good, but heavily meat-based cuisine (Schnitzel, sausages). Nice old cafés and great bakeries.

  • High level of formality in interactions.

  • Quite hierarchical and conformist. People follow the rules, for example, when waiting for the light to change at crosswalks.

Clearly, these eight points are only a snapshot of what people know and think and you'll meet people with different preconceived ideas and real experiences.

Understanding what people know and think

Gaining insights into what people know or what preconceived notions they hold is not about looking for absolute truths, but about developing a better understanding of potential communication and collaboration barriers. Naturally, if you plan to engage in business relationships, your insights must go deeper than the few examples I listed above.

People meeting and shaking hands

But how and where can you gain these insights? The internet provides a lot of helpful resources about the United States. To gain the deeper understanding you need to communicate effectively with Americans, however, I recommend that you work with a culture or business coach who has extensive experience living and working in the US. Someone who is able to give a cross-cultural perspective. A coach can help you explore without stereotyping or adopting wrong assumptions, which would do more harm than good, and advise you on the nuances.

I can help you with that. My extensive experience spans 30 years of transatlantic life. It stems from my own work as a researcher, a trainer/coach, and a business professional on both sides of the Atlantic.

Contact me for a free 30-minute consultation. I look forward to hearing from you.

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