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10 Common Cultural Differences when Working with Americans


Depending on your own culture, working with Americans can be challenging.

When delivering cross-cultural training we get to hear many of the challenges facing professionals when working with Americans.

This is both in a face-to-face context, i.e. in the USA, and the virtual context, i.e. working remotely.

Understanding more about a country and culture can help minimize problems.

To help you, we're going to share 10 of the most common cultural differences foreigners encounter when working with US culture.


10 Often Cited Cultural Differences with Americans in Business

As you’ll discover, many of these cultural differences come down to a difference in values and how Americans are being perceived by others.

1. Time is Money

Time is literally given material worth in US culture.

Every second of every day is precious and as a result, Americans hate it when their time is wasted. Being late for an appointment, missing deadlines and a general lack of timekeeping will quickly see you judged as ‘unprofessional’.


2. Everything Now

Americans come across as always in a rush, under pressure and wanting everything ‘now!’.

You’ve got to remember that American culture is built on speed, on being the best and being the first. If you are to survive, things have to happen quickly or someone else will beat you to it.


3. Business First

Unlike in some cultures where you build a personal relationship first before moving into business, in the US you do business first and then maybe think about the relationship.

Remember, at work, Americans focus on getting things done, not on making friends. That's not to say they are unfriendly - two very different things.

Is USA Business Culture Complex?

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Well, it all depends on where you are from!

The Business Culture Complexity Index™ ranks it as the 19th most difficult business culture in the world.

Click here to find out why!



4. Say What You Mean

American communication is direct, frank and transparent.

You are expected to say what you mean and mean what you say. Especially within the workplace, there is no room for people’s feelings, worrying about how a message may be interpreted or showing deference to any hierarchy in the room.


5. Keep Things Short

Americans have short attention spans.

Things need to be quick, concise and to the point. When giving an opinion, making a presentation or giving a speech, you must ‘cut to the chase’ ASAP to avoid people losing interest. Emails should always be brief.


6. Do It Yourself

Americans believe that destiny is in their own hands.

As a result, people take on responsibility very easily and have no problem trying to manipulate outcomes. It’s for this reason that Americans can seem so single-minded in their pursuit of success. This independence was also seen as one of the reasons for the quick spread of COVID-19 at the start of the pandemic in the USA.


7. Look at Me

In American society, every child is raised believing they are special.

You are taught to fight for your individuality and to express it without fear. As adults, within the workplace, this manifests in people trying to ‘stand out from the crowd’ and in some cases rejecting conformity.

manager presents to team usa

Being a foreign manager in the USA requires an understanding of the local values.

Click here for our guide to American management culture

Photo by Campaign Creators on Unsplash

8. Competition Trumps Co-operation

America is built on free-trade Capitalism, which itself is reliant on competition.

US culture is therefore highly competitive meaning the idea of teamwork takes on a very different look and feel to some other parts of the world. In a ‘dog eat dog’ world people are taught they need to ‘look after number one’. Negotiating with Americans can be tough for cultures more inclined towards harmony and compromise.


9. Change Means Progress

Although much of middle America is conservative, culturally speaking Americans look forward not backwards when seeking inspiration.

They are quick to accept and adopt change as change in US culture means progress, development and improvement. Looking backwards is for losers.


10. Materialism is Freedom

Americans love to buy stuff.

Buying material goods in America means success. It’s the reward for all your hard work. It’s what makes America free. Having material wealth, for some people, is, therefore, more important than personal relationships.

Working Across Cultures

When working with different cultures, it’s usually our differences in values that can cause us problems.

As we see in the examples above, all of these cultural differences are experienced by cultures in which they have different value systems.

For example, in China, India and the Middle East, the direct communication style of the Americans comes across as rude, aggressive and cold. This is however only the case because they come from cultures in which you are very diplomatic and indirect. For Germans and the Dutch, they have a very different experience of Americans.

That’s why it’s always important to remember that in any cross-cultural situation, there are two sides to the story.

Take a Professional Course on USA Culture

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If you would like to learn more about American culture, and specifically US business culture, then why not sign-up for our e-Learning Course?

It's packed with insights into the social values, communication style, etiquette and business practices.



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