Overcoming The Language Barrier As A Brit In America

Lost In Translation: Overcoming The Language Barrier As A Brit In America
Forbes. August 14, 2014
Lucy Millington, SungardAS

Similar scenarios of being misunderstood, or just plain not understood, by Americans have played out in the business arena during my seven years in the US. On the business front, I’ve found that the need to adapt not only my terms, but moreover my communication style, is even more critical than in the personal realm.

It’s true: We British sometimes avoid just saying what we mean.

But it’s not because we can’t or don’t want to just come right out with it.
In the UK’s cultural context, directness can be perceived as rudeness.
So when we politely query, “Are there any other options to consider?” instead of bluntly stating the fact that “I don’t like your idea,” it’s because we’re just too polite. But we tend to assume that the people we’re addressing know that. And when we “almost agree” with a proposal, or admit to being “a bit disappointed” with an outcome, we’re expecting our audience to read between the lines to find the message we think is abundantly clear: we don’t agree; we don’t approve.

However, for a UK transplant spending any amount of time in the US, it quickly becomes clear that understatement and subtlety are just not the order of the day.
I’ve learned from experience that messages delivered in the self-effacing or tentative tone of the typical British communication style often miss their mark.
Our audience isn’t reading between the lines in the same way our compatriots would; they’re expecting us to state our case in “plain English,” just like Americans would.

Audience empathy and effective communication are pillars of my chosen career …


Conversational Maxims
September 2014