It is rare for anyone other than my work colleagues to take an interest in what I am working on. Let’s face it—“Hey, have you seen the latest article on leadership styles?” is probably not going to get the conversation started. That’s why I was a little shocked when a casual mention of a new training project on American culture sparked such a response from a friend.
“American culture? Which one? North, South, New York, California? You can’t believe there is only one,” she remarked.
Another helpful friend asked if I had seen the #AmericaInFiveWords hashtag early last year, which of course sparked my interest. In late 2014, Aja Barber was reflecting on what it feels like to be living in the United States today and asked people to describe the U.S. in five words or less.
Of course there were the cynical responses:
Selective memory and convenient history
There are no poor politicians
Unlimited Soup Salad and Breadsticks
And the patriotic responses:
Opportunity, freedom, red, white, blue
Striving for a perfect union
And those that acknowledged the good and the bad:
Still a work in progress
Better than all the alternatives
And while the responses displayed a wide range of emotion, one study at that time revealed that the majority of Americans actually see the U.S. in a positive light. All of this got me thinking about exactly how you train someone on how to work with Americans.
In an article titled, “How to Explain Americans,” Italian journalist Beppe Severgnini boiled us down to four words: control, competition, choreography, and trust.
What is meant by control? According to Severgnini, Americans have a passion for order and predictability. We are a nation of optimistic self-improvers and do-it-yourselfers. We strive to have the situation under control and feel that our actions are going to bring the proper result. I think I can see that translating to a sales conversation.
What about competition? Is the root of the American household about keeping up with the Joneses? Does that explain the 47 flavors of potato chips or 250 TV channels that most Americans expect to have access to? I think it is important to acknowledge that American culture includes not just wanting the best, but expecting that the companies we choose to do business with are prepared to offer it.
The next word Severgnini used to describe Americans, choreography, is summed up in his statement, “Anything important has also got to be spectacular, if not plain over the top, and ear-splittingly loud.” Watching the current election environment, I cannot disagree with that one!
And finally, trust. Americans want to trust the people they are doing business with. They want to feel that the individual on the other end of the line, whether next door or on the next continent, is there to help them. And that might be the best topic we can “train”: How companies can earn that trust and build relationships that will keep us coming back.
Personally, I feel there is much more to American culture and to doing business with Americans. But it is interesting to start with everyone’s five words.
What are the five words that you use to describe America?