Brexit, cultural differences and negotiation styles

Captions below. More information and some tips under the captions. Also available on YouTube.


“It was a Trumpian use of alternative facts,”
said one EU source.

(It is not tied to the Trump era, however. I first ran into the above in Southampton, in 2006 or 2007. It’s part of the silly games the English often play. It renders you powerless and speechless, pulls the rug out from under you, thus putting them in the driver seat. Be prepared for this. Stay focused!)

…as a British official put it:
“They found it very difficult to deal with our obstinacy. It was wearying.”




About Chris Voss:


00:00:00,240 –> 00:00:04,000
Hi there. Today I’m going to
talk about a more serious topic.

00:00:05,120 –> 00:00:10,880
As you know, the UK has left the EU. If
you’re a business owner – whether you’re

00:00:10,880 –> 00:00:16,080
in the UK or somewhere else – this may mean that you have to negotiate more from now on.

00:00:17,120 –> 00:00:24,080
If the Brexit process has puzzled you, well, welcome to England. This is how things often go

00:00:24,080 –> 00:00:28,960
around here. I’ve been in England for over 16 years and I’ve run into this kind of thing

00:00:28,960 –> 00:00:37,040
numerous times. What English people don’t know or may not know is that English people can come

00:00:37,040 –> 00:00:43,840
across as petulant… recalcitrant… – what’s the other word that I’m looking for? – obstinate

00:00:44,720 –> 00:00:52,080
in international business negotiations. In international settings. And that may tick you off,

00:00:52,080 –> 00:00:58,320
hearing me say that, but it’s just the way it is. People in other countries negotiate differently.

00:00:58,320 –> 00:01:05,360
Very often. That was also a problem with Brexit. You may remember that Angela Merkel at some point

00:01:05,360 –> 00:01:11,840
said about Theresa May or to Theresa May: “Why don’t you just tell me what you want?”

00:01:12,400 –> 00:01:19,840
For English people, negotiation is some kind of silly game, comes across to us as a silly game.

00:01:19,840 –> 00:01:25,840
Us foreigners. Not always but often. Let me give you an example.

00:01:29,280 –> 00:01:41,252
And you need to know this. You need to know about this if you’re in business.

00:01:41,252 –> 00:01:46,720
The thing you have to understand – both if you’re coming from the British side, the English side, or coming from the

00:01:46,720 –> 00:01:53,840
other side – is that English people have a very different way of thinking, of seeing the world.

00:01:54,960 –> 00:02:02,800
One very good book to have within this context. This is a… old version; there is a newer version.

00:02:02,800 –> 00:02:10,960
It’s by a British guy who is a specialist on cultural differences and he mentions that the

00:02:10,960 –> 00:02:17,040
British – he calls them the British but I think it pertains particularly to the English – are very

00:02:17,040 –> 00:02:22,560
insular. They always think that foreigners are out to get them, strangers are out to get

00:02:22,560 –> 00:02:28,640
them. It’s not true that strangers are always out to get the English. Why would we want to do that?

00:02:29,440 –> 00:02:34,160
He also mentions something else that the English often get into – not necessarily

00:02:34,160 –> 00:02:40,720
all the British – something called “muddled thinking”. It may be very clear to English people

00:02:40,720 –> 00:02:45,920
but it can be very confusing to others because we have no idea what you’re going on about.

00:02:47,600 –> 00:02:52,400
Sorry, but that’s the case. So
this is one thing: Be aware of

00:02:52,400 –> 00:02:59,120
these cultural differences. There’s another aspect to this. People have different negotiation styles,

00:02:59,120 –> 00:03:08,000
regardless of culture. If you look into… Chris Voss who used to be an FBI hostage negotiator

00:03:08,000 –> 00:03:13,120
has distinguished some of these different styles and you may see that the English style

00:03:13,120 –> 00:03:23,040
fits into one of these. He calls it “the
analyst”. I get this from Chris Voss’s material.

00:03:23,920 –> 00:03:31,120
How they see themselves? As realistic, prepared and smart. How they may be seen by others?

00:03:31,680 –> 00:03:37,120
As cold and standoffish. They care
about acquiring facts and information.

00:03:38,000 –> 00:03:48,720
Their negotiation mindset is time = preparation and silence is time to think. They hate surprises.

00:03:50,480 –> 00:03:57,120
They have, they tie their self-image to
minimizing mistakes, not being seen as

00:03:57,120 –> 00:04:03,760
making mistakes, hiding mistakes, covering them up. Because it’s tied to embarrassment. Embarrassment

00:04:03,760 –> 00:04:10,960
is a very English thing. They prefer to work on their own; they’re not really team players.

00:04:11,600 –> 00:04:18,400
They are skeptical by nature. “…skeptical by nature…” You need to know that if you go into a negotiation.

00:04:19,520 –> 00:04:25,520
They may agree, they may appear to agree with you but just say it so that they can buy themselves

00:04:25,520 –> 00:04:33,840
time. And they can be very, they can be very slow to answer questions. Getting straight answers

00:04:33,840 –> 00:04:40,960
from English people can be like pulling teeth. Seriously. And if they ever apologize to you about

00:04:40,960 –> 00:04:46,480
anything, ignore it because apologies have little value here. They’re just something people say.

00:04:49,120 –> 00:04:56,800
They give, they give only things that they have thought long and hard about. English people

00:04:56,800 –> 00:05:02,960
don’t easily give things and are very suspicious of things that are given by someone else.

00:05:03,520 –> 00:05:09,200
Anything that’s free, anything that’s offered, it makes them naturally suspicious. If you’re

00:05:09,200 –> 00:05:12,480
in a negotiation with English people, you need to know that.

00:05:15,440 –> 00:05:23,040
As Chris Voss says – or his team wrote – when they receive first, they see it as a trap. They think

00:05:23,040 –> 00:05:30,320
it has to be a trap. Their worst type
match in negotiation is the type that I am.

00:05:30,320 –> 00:05:38,160
Assertive. There’s another type that’s called “the accommodator”. Assertive types like me see

00:05:38,160 –> 00:05:46,080
themselves as honest, logical and direct, says Chris Voss. How others may see them? Emotional, aggressive

00:05:46,080 –> 00:05:50,160
and harsh. That’s definitely the case
here with English people. I tick them off

00:05:50,800 –> 00:05:57,120
no matter what I say or don’t say or wear. I often feel that the way I breathe annoys them.

00:05:58,720 –> 00:06:04,720
We need mutual respect, nothing more or less. Absolutely! Chris Voss, you’re right

00:06:04,720 –> 00:06:11,280
about that. I seem to be this type. I recognize a lot of this. We care about being heard. True.

00:06:12,560 –> 00:06:19,840
The negotiation mindset is “time is money”. Hurry up! And if you want to win from someone like me

00:06:20,400 –> 00:06:27,040
you have to get me to say “That’s right!”. You have to get me to agree with you. But I’m not

00:06:27,040 –> 00:06:33,600
English. So if you’re English and you negotiate with someone like me you have to think about that.


With Brexit a fact, business owners and professionals on both sides of the line may have to negotiate more often to continue to do business with one another. Generally speaking, the English have a very different negotiation style and a very different way of thinking than other westerners. For people on either side of this divide, it helps to be aware of that.

After I moved to England, my natural “loud” confidence seemed to offend the English so often that I went out of my way to avoid stepping on their toes. But that made things worse as this attitude of “you offend us by your very being” is part of the game of being English. You’re often supposed to yell stuff back. On the other hand, I have also learned that apologizing – simply apologizing, which in practice may be for your foreign ways – can go a long way. For assertive types like me, life in England can be like perpetually walking a tightrope. Unless you start seeing it as a game, recognizing it for the silly game it often is, you may end up being perpetually tense and annoyed.

Throw your expectations overboard when you go into a negotiation with English people. And if you’re a woman and bring your male partner with you, or even a male employee whose boss you are, you may find that you are ignored and that the conversation takes place between the males. Of course, this is not always the case, but don’t let it throw you if that happens.

What I do not mention in the video is the fact that in Britain, and certainly in England, one belongs to a certain class. This is still very much the case even now. It can be very important to know how to present yourself within this context in order to be accepted – taken seriously – by the Brits you are dealing with. The United Kingdom is far from united. There are marked differences between the four nations and the English are the most conservative of the four. (Did you expect that?) So, how to deal best with “the class thing” can vary regionally. Richard Lewis – When cultures collide – can give you more tips on that. Dealing with the class thing is an art that I will never master and I no longer worry about it.

It’s of course not entirely true that English or British people never give, but they seem to prefer to give through an intermediary, not directly. Charity foundations and charity shops. In a previous video, I mentioned “anonymous help” in getting a new screen for my phone. That’s an example. I even suspect that the shop being unable to repair my phone was “arranged” locally (so that I would not have to spend the money on the repairs but could buy a screen for a fraction of that amount and repair the phone myself). Oh yeah, things often work in highly mysterious ways around here.

In my home country or in the US, talking like this would mean that you may be psychotic. The Dutch and the Americans are very direct; the British are anything but. They love making you guess what on earth they are trying to say and have a strange way of hinting at things that – again – elsewhere might mean that you’re psychotic if you had to think that way and read meanings that are not explicitly there into all sorts of things that are being done and said.

It can really drive me crazy, this beating around the bush and all the convoluted game-playing that is usually completely beyond me because what’s behind it tends to be something typically English that might never even cross my mind. They worry about and fuss over lots of things that are immaterial to anyone but a Brit.

By the way, I am Dutch, but my natural communication style is pretty American. That said, you can also see how I’ve been impacted by my living environment in the past 16 years. In the video, I say that to “win” from someone like me, you have to get me to agree with you. Seeing the other party as “the enemy”, as someone you need to “win” from, that’s pretty English in my experience. On the other hand, the assertive type is “win-oriented”.

Finally, seven tips.

1. Anything that’s said but is not in writing and signed by both of you usually means nothing. Not always.

2. Getting an introduction from an English person can work wonders. It conveys trustworthiness, even if the English person is someone you barely know and may only have met once.

3. And “the absence of yes times time equals no”, but not always. Sometimes it means that you need to put your foot down, but it often means that you have to stop waiting, waste no more time and walk away.

4. Similarly as with apologies, assurances about letters having been sent and so on mean zilch if you haven’t received anything but should have. Ask the other side to text or e-mail you a copy or, if you still use a fax, to fax you a copy. Insist on it. That they do it that day.

5. Acting in good faith is not a legal principle over here. It is in many other countries. (So, be aware of silly word games being played in written communications, for example. They can trip you up without you realizing it.) This is part of the reason why many people are so wary – paranoid – over here. They trust no one and part purpose of the word games and the toying with Trumpian realities is to draw you out and see what kind of person you are.

6. It is often said that humour is the key to dealing with the English. But English humour tends to be vastly different from other types of humour. I’ve found that when I joke here, people have no idea that I am joking and give me dead-serious responses. Thus they may even get annoyed when I joke in a way that English people don’t get. English humour often is a form of ridicule or sarcasm. (Lewis has more about this in “When cultures collide.”) This too – the ridicule – may be intended to find out what kind of person you really are. Except, if it bores you or you’re baffled because you didn’t see it coming and don’t respond, you may give them the wrong impression of who you are. What does often work is a genuine compliment, not to manipulate and not in an exaggerated or overstated manner. A quick lighthearted but genuine “I like your hat!” can quickly put a smile on an English person’s face.

7. Be patient.

The Brits. Always the recalcitrant cousin who does not want to participate.

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