The UK Post-Brexit: Time for an EU-free Diet?

Matthew MacLachlan

15 Jul 2016

The UK population is slowly absorbing the realities of “Brexit is Brexit”. Each vote surely counted and the vote to leave the EU was not some ironic joke at our own expense, but a political, financial and social reality.

Companies, the markets and even people hate uncertainty. To quote Rowan Atkinson from his pre-Mr Bean days: “There certainly seems to be a certain amount of uncertainty about, of that we can be quite… sure”. So how can we make Brexit a success? The UK post-Brexit requires leaders and businesses to upskill and get on the road!

The UK Post Brexit

Many businesses appear to be preparing for lean times, a time of belt-tightening while we re-establish the UK as a standalone economic entity and reset our relationship with our European neighbours.

There are, however, some signs, that, at least in the short term, Brexit may have a positive impact on British businesses. Britain is the EU’s biggest customer, and with the weakening of the pound, our exports have become almost more than 10% cheaper. This should see British production increase significantly over the next 12 months or so, and with interest rates at an unprecedented low level, businesses have the opportunity to take advantage of favourable exchange rates.

There certainly seems to be a certain amount of uncertainty about, of that we can be quite… sure (Rowen Atkinson)

Export to Success

If I am selling to you, I speak your language. If I am buying, dann müssen Sie Deutsch sprechen (Willy Brandt)

But does business have all the tools to succeed? Numerous studies have concluded that British business is losing out to our European competitors through a lack of intercultural and language competence. The famous words of a former German Chancellor still ring true today forty years on: “If I am selling to you, I speak your language. If I am buying, dann müssen Sie Deutsch sprechen (Willy Brandt)

British business people are famous throughout Europe for their lack of international skills and their linguistic and cultural blunders.

As we move into the unknown world of post-EU Britain, we need to build effective relationships with European partners. Communication styles and how to build credibility and trust are key skills that British traders and business people would do well to develop.

Communication Styles

Language nuances confound even the most fluent of non-native English speakers

In Britain, we sometimes sneer at the stereotypical Yorkshireman’s “I say what I mean, and I mean what I say.” For the majority of British, intelligence and eloquence is often measured by how easily you can state the complete opposite of what you mean. “John will be a great negotiator” is not the compliment it might appear to be. “Would you mind working late tonight?” is not a polite inquiry about the level of potential inconvenience, but a strongly worded command.

These nuances confound even the most fluent of non-native English speakers. To confound matters, the mood in Europe is no longer favourable towards the badly behaved cousin. Now that we have divorced ourselves from the “family”, we can already see that the more relationship-oriented cultures of France and Italy are no longer prepared to invest in trying to understand us. We must, therefore, learn how to communicate effectively to those we wish to woo into doing business with us.

Winston Churchill and Boris Johnson are often held up as examples of excellent public speakers, but in the world of intercultural business they typify what not to do:

DON’T DO
Mumble Speak clearly and with longer natural pauses
Use complicated sentences and arguments Use concise points and simpler grammatical constructions are more effective
Dominate the conversation Listen to your counterpart and give them time to formulate a reply

 

In the Nordic and Germanic countries (e.g. the Netherlands, Germany, Austria, the Czech Republic and Slovakia) you should be more direct and more formal. Feedback can be more constructive and honest in nature. Negotiations are not a matter of personal confrontation but are more about getting the best deal for both sides.

Negotiations are not a matter of personal confrontation but are more about getting the best deal for both sides.

On the opposite side in the more Latin countries (e.g. Spain, Italy, Greece, Romania, Portugal and France) as well as the Slavonic countries (Former Yugoslavia and Bulgaria) and Ireland, maintaining harmony is more important than being direct. This is not to say that lying is tolerated. However, truth is more subjective and is often expressed in a much more indirect way. Negotiations are conducted on a personal level, and frequently deals will be agreed, not because the terms are more favourable, but through a mutual understanding.

Credibility and Trust

Credibility and trust were at the heart of the Brexit campaigns – who did we trust to decide our future? Could we believe one side or the other? In common with the establishment, Britain needs to rebuild trust with the European business community. In the short term, the low value of Sterling will be enough to keep Europe interested in us, but those organisations that can take a more strategic view will need to learn how to establish longer lasting business relationships.

Our biggest European partner, Germany is unsurprisingly impressed by facts, statistics and end products. How they get to the result is less important than the destination – you can build a great relationship by successfully achieving targets, completing tasks and improving processes. This is true for our third partner, Netherlands as well. In 2011, these two countries accounted for £46.3 billion of exports.

For relationship-oriented cultures, credibility and trust are built on personal trust

This approach is much less effective for the second, fourth and fifth largest partners – France, Belgium and Italy – accounting for another £40 billion of exports. For relationship-oriented cultures, credibility and trust are built on personal trust. This comes through time and getting to know key personnel, using your network to find out who else you have worked with and whether they will recommend you. This kind of relationship can only be built by personal contact, spending time – the French work lunch is famous and is where the real deals are made. A contract merely formalises an existing relationship.

Making Business Work

Regardless of your politics, business cannot just stop and wait for the political leadership to finalise negotiations, nor can we sit around until the economy stabilises. Developing sound intercultural business relationships may be the difference between feast and famine for British companies, and international companies based in Britain. Restoring Europe’s trust in our ability to deliver and showing that we are able to adapt to European customers’ requirements is going to be an essential part of Britain’s future.

 



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