- Australians place a high value on relationships.
- With a relatively small population, it is important to get along with everyone, since you never know when your paths may cross again.
- Australians are very down to earth and always mindful of not giving the impression that they think they are better than anyone else.
- They value authenticity, sincerity, and loathe pretentiousness.
- This leads to a win-win negotiating style, since having everyone come away with positive feelings helps facilitate future business dealings.
- Australians prefer people who are modest, humble, self- deprecating and with a sense of humour.
- They do not draw attention to their academic or other achievements and tend to distrust people who do.
- They often downplay their own success, which may make them appear not to be achievement-oriented.
- The initial population of Australia was made up of Aborigines and people of British and Irish descent
- After World War II there was heavy migration from Europe, especially from Greece, Italy, Germany, the Netherlands, Yugoslavia, Lebanon, and Turkey.
- This was in response to the Australian policy of proactively trying to attract immigrants to boost the population and work force.
- This has caused a real shift in self-perception as Aussies begin to re-define themselves as a multi-cultural and multi-faith society rather then the old homogenous, white, Anglo- Saxon, Protestant nation.
Common heritage, common provenance
Outwardly, Australian culture and American culture appear quite similar. Both are predominantly of Caucasian/Anglo-Saxon ancestry and share both an English heritage and the English language. They are relatively young cultures that grew through liberal immigration policies during their early political formation, and follow well known and understood legal traditions and governance systems.
Both Australia and the United States were conceived as British colonies; the United States for its economic/trade value and Australia as a prison colony. Settlers of the two nations eventually conquered rough and unfriendly terrain by overpowering the indigenous people and working the land for mining and farming. Over time, the United States and Australia have maintained an excellent political relationship, with Australia backing every US military intervention, including the most recent in Iraq and its continued presence in Afghanistan. In 2011, both nations celebrated the 60th anniversary of the ANZUS treaty, the formal statement of each country’s military commitment to one another.
Meaningful differences (work)
However, outside of these external factors, the cultural differences between the two countries, especially in a business or political context, is disarming. While both are relatively young countries, the political and religious philosophies that characterised each nation’s early settlers is quite different.
The earliest influx of immigrants to the United States was most famously the Pilgrims, who were looking to escape religious persecution in Europe. The puritanical Pilgrims had a strong Calvinist religious tradition, which emphasised hard work and individual salvation. On the other hand, early Australia was settled by convicts who were considered renegades of the law and the church at a time that the Church of England was strongly identified with authority. Thus, from its earliest days, community was emphasised as an alternative to the central “command-and-control” religious structures that classified law and order in England.
Consequently, if US culture is considered to be very individualistic in nature, with emphasis on free will and the self-made man achieving economic success through the American dream, then Australia, in line with its community-oriented heritage is a culture that emphasises common good as expressed by the popular expression “fair go for all.”. A common metaphor for the differences in work culture between the US and Australia can be seen by comparing American football versus Australian football. Australian football is fluid and lacks structured plays. There are often plans, but the team equally relies on flexibility and innovation, with players expected to fulfill multiple roles. You get 6 points for scoring a goal, but if you miss the goal you can get 1 point (for not missing it by a lot). By comparison, U.S. football is classified by engineered plays, directed by non playing staff (the coaching staff), with very specialised players in very specific positions. It is common for many palyers to go a whole season without touching the ball.
Meaningful differences (leadership)
Cultural differences about the role of the individual versus authority will obviously affect leadership structures in the workplace. For example, Australian culture places much more emphasis on egalitarianism and consultative, consensus driven leadership models, while the United States places more emphasis on authoritative and strong leadership styles.
A typical example is that the Australian Prime Minister will often ride in the front seat with their driver, and will insist on being addressed by her first name. The United States President, on the other hand, always rides in the back, is always be addressed as “Mr. President,” and is formally referred to the “Commander in Chief”. Another example of authority vested by position is the common tradition of referring to ex presidents by their previous titles.
These are fundamentally differences; The US American command-control leadership styles is in direct contrast with the Australian fraternal leadership style. In Australia, a leader is expected to win the respect of his peers and followers by virtue of his character, rather than by virtue of his position. In the United States, leaders are expected to take control through more active leadership roles, and can use their position to leverage power in order to gain followers.
Although there is an emerging trend toward the evolution of flat business organisations in American business literature and business schools, most U.S. businesses are still characterised by clear structure and reporting certainty. Employment law has evolved to afford employees some basic civil rights protections, but employees generally work at will, meaning that they often lack meaningful control in the workplace. Consequently, work is often considered “serious” in the United States, and paired with an individualistic culture, Americans work hard to rise through the structured ranks. Australian organisations, on the other hand, prefer flexibility and autonomy in the workplace. Work is a part of life, but certainly lacks the all-consuming characteristic that dominates life in the United States.
On a personal level
Relationships & Communication
- Australians are very matter of fact when it comes to business so do not need long- standing personal relationships before they do business with people.
- Australians are very direct in the way they communicate.
- There is often an element of humour, often self-deprecating, in their speech.
- Aussies often use colourful language that would be unthinkable in other countries.
- Appointments are necessary and relatively easy to schedule.
- They should be made with as much lead time as possible.
- Punctuality is important in business situations. It is better to arrive a few minutes early than to keep someone waiting.
- Meetings are generally relaxed; however, they are serious events.
- If an Australian takes exception to something that you say, they will tell you so.
- If you make a presentation, avoid hype, making exaggerated claims, or bells and whistles.
- Present your business case with facts and figures. Emotions and feelings are not important in the Australian business climate.
- Australians are not very formal so greetings are casual and relaxed.
- A handshake and smile suffices.
- While an Australian may say, 'G'day' or 'G'day, mate', this may sound patronizing from a foreigner.
- Visitors should simply say, 'Hello' or 'Hello, how are you?'
- Aussies prefer to use first names, even at the initial meeting
Negotiating and Decision Making
- Australians get down to business quickly with a minimum amount of small talk.
- They are quite direct and expect the same in return. They appreciate brevity and are not impressed by too much detail.
- Negotiations proceed quickly. Bargaining is not customary. They will expect your initial proposal to have only a small margin for negotiation.
- They do not like high-pressure techniques.
- Decision-making is concentrated at the top of the company, although decisions are made after consultation with subordinates, which can make decision making slow and protracted.
What to wear?
- Business dress tends to be conservative in Melbourne, Sydney and Canberra
- Men should wear a dark coloured, conservative business suit.
- Women should wear a smart dress or a business suit.
- In Brisbane or other tropical areas, depending on the job function and company culture, men may wear shirts, ties and Bermuda shorts.
- Depending on the job function and company culture, it is common for people who do not regularly deal with the public to wear smart caual clothing (even to meetings).
- Business cards are exchanged at the initial introduction without formal ritual.
- If you are not given a business card, it is not an insult; the person simply may not have one.
Gift Giving Etiquette
- Small gifts are commonly exchanged with family members, close friends, and neighbours on birthdays and Christmas.
- Trades people such as sanitation workers may be given a small amount of cash, or more likely, a bottle of wine or a six-pack of beer!
- If invited to someone's home for dinner, it is polite to bring a box of chocolates or flowers to the hostess. A good quality bottle of wine is always appreciated.
- Gifts are opened when received.
- Many invitations to an Aussies home will be for a 'barbie' (BBQ).
- Guests to a barbeque typically bring wine or beer for their personal consumption. In some cases, very informal barbecues may suggest that you bring your own meat!
- Arrive on time if invited to dinner; no more than 15 minutes late if invited to a barbeque or a large party.
- Contact the hostess ahead of time to see if she would like you to bring a dish.
- Offer to help the hostess with the preparation or clearing up after a meal is served.
- Table manners are Continental -- hold the fork in the left hand and the knife in the right while eating.
- Indicate you have finished eating by laying your knife and fork parallel on your plate with the handles facing to the right
- Keep your elbows off the table and your hands above the table when eating