If you’re tired of London, you’re tired of life – or so the saying goes. Originally attributed to Samuel Johnson, it’s a quote hundreds of years old. And the same still applies today. London is one of the ‘big three’ global cities, along with New York and Tokyo, and of course, it comes with its own climate, rituals, and cultural paradigms.
People often consider doing business, working, and living in London to be more straightforward than say, doing business in Asia or in another megacity around the globe – but these people are misinformed. Just like everywhere else, there are a number of unique cultural and etiquette considerations to keep in mind. This post is going to highlight some of these and get you feeling a little more well-informed about conducting commerce in one of the most historically important, wealthiest, and globally relevant cities today.
1. Business Talk Can Still Be Indirect
Even though London is a very globalised city, with everything from Sushi to Sandwiches on every street corner, you might be surprised to know that British politeness principles still govern the majority of business transactions around today.
This means that while Londoners aren’t afraid to talk figures and deadlines, and aren’t afraid to negotiate inside the boardroom, you might be surprised by how little business talk goes on outside of the meeting. It’s often considered normal to keep business talk to business hours, and replace these with pleasantries or informal conversation after the meeting has taken place.
It’s worth remembering that equally, British people can be fairly standoffish at first and are less outwardly warm and friendly than other cultures – this goes for a lot of Northern Europe. That said, once you establish a relationship, you’re likely to maintain it for life. This goes for business too – at first things might be slow, lukewarm, and a bit distant, but be persistent, and you’ll be rewarded.
2. The London Attitude
Expanding on this point, what we said above could be true about most of the UK. People say that as a rule the North is more open and friendly than the South, and that may be true. But the ‘London Attitude’ is widely acknowledged to exist – even though many people don’t like the phrase.
To get a true understanding of the London Attitude, all you’ve got to do is take a ride on the tube, walk around the central business district, or take too long buying a ticket. The London Attitude is all about getting on with things and getting things done. People don’t have a lot of time to waste, and people are frankly, impatient. You’ll see on the tube people on laptops, phones, typing quickly and getting themselves from meeting to meeting. There’s a swagger and a sense of urgency in the London manner. That’s what makes this mile-a-minute city a special place to do business. Lives are changes and fortunes are made and extinguished in the blink of an eye – and you’d better keep your finger on the pulse or you might miss it.
This can sometimes pervade meetings and business exchanges in London too. While it’s strictly no business outside of the boardroom (e.g. if you go for lunch or go out in the evening), you’d better be prepared to get down to brass tax and not waste time when giving a business presentation or negotiating a contract. Otherwise, you might be skipped over for the next meeting which is due exactly 30 seconds after your slot’s come to an end.
3. Don’t be late
That’s another thing to add on here – London’s trains and buses might be late more often than not, and getting stuck in traffic isn’t an uncommon occurrence. But if you’re looking to impress a client, you’d better plan ahead for that.
Unlike other countries where a meeting starts ‘around’ the time you stated, or even later when everyone’s had a chance to grab a coffee and arrive, this doesn’t apply in the capital.
Business is timely, and time is money. If you’ve got a meeting at five then you’d better be there at 4:55 sharp. Any longer will cost you…and you’d better believe your nearest competitor will be waiting outside the door ready to take your business.
4. Don’t Get Your Terminology Confused
This is a fun one, but London is a bit unique in terms of the chatter. Just like in New York you might have a lot of baseball and American Football nomenclature, London is the same. Being down with the terminology is a way to show you’re an expert on the capital city and the culture you’re doing business in. If you can tell your boss that you’re about to hop on the Northern Line Southbound to meet a potential for a pint, then you’re on the right track. Bonus points if you know the ‘Walkie Talkie’, the ‘Gherkin’ and the ‘Shard’.
5. Don’t Forget The History
London is one of the most famous historical cities in the world, and has a pervasive sense of importance and pride in many Londoners’ and adopted Londoners’ hearts. Being aware of the monumental importance of the city and its role is a sure fire way to build strong relationships. For many Londoners, it’s more than just great travel links, a strong economy, and a business-friendly infrastructure; it’s an identity.
Keep these points in mind when you do business in London and you’ll be poised for success. And don’t worry about Brexit either – London, as it always has done, will keep calm and carry on.