This week’s article is about building (and destroying) trust with Americans. This is an important issue for anyone choosing to enter the American market. If you don’t understand how Americans use trust, it will likely sabotage your business dealings. Here’s what you need to know:

Trust is Easily Given

In world business, Americans often have the reputation as being extremely friendly immediately upon first meeting. Americans are also typically friendly even to those they have just met. This is culturally expected in American business culture, although further observation can tell you whether the American is being sincere or not. Typically they are interested in getting to know you and doing business with you. American business relationships are built on average more quickly than relationships and agreements in other parts of the world. The advantage is that a business relationship begins quicker and hopefully generates positive results quicker. The disadvantages are that these relationships are not typically built on a solid foundation of knowing each other well. They are instead built on mutual financial benefit on the short-term. Another disadvantage is that the trust that the relationship rests on can be undermined easily and quickly if the American’s expectations don’t match with reality.

Trust is Easily Lost

While Americans give trust easily, they also revoke it just as quickly. Americans expect openness from their business relationships. They expect people and companies to do exactly what they agree to do even if the situation has changed. And they expect their business relationships to be profitable. Sometimes other cultures see Americans as naïve for trusting so quickly. It has often happened that someone working with an American for the first time sees this early trust and tries to use this to gain advantage. But the Americans have an expression: “Fool me once, shame on you. But fool me twice, shame on me.” Once the deception is discovered, the American will never trust that person again. They will also go out of their way to warn others about your negative business practices. Some cultures also use an aggressive approach to put an American on the defensive to respond to a problem in the relationship. This will also turn out badly. Recently this happened in one of my business dealings. It was clear that the other party was at fault, but they tried to reassign blame to the American side. If someone makes a mistake in American business, the responsible party is expected to acknowledge the mistake and work to fix it. To accuse someone of fault where there is none will remove all trust by the Americans. And once trust is lost, it is very difficult to regain.

Regaining the Trust

Even though trust lost is challenging to recover, it can be done and in some cases is critical to build back. If the relationship is a minor one, I would advise you to let the relationship die a timely death and move on. But if this is an important relationship as a business partner or client, then here are steps you can take. First, insist on speaking about the break in trust. If possible have this conversation face to face or over Skype. Even if the Americans seem uninterested in talking, be very assertive about confronting the issue. Be ready to talk about what your side did wrong to lead to the break in trust. Once you have admitted your part, then you can also talk about other factors that contributed such as a weather delay in shipment or a change in government trade policy. Listen without interruption for the Americans to react to what you have said. Then plan together how to move forward in the relationship. Be patient with trust building back over time because this process may take weeks or months. Follow up with communication about the relationship’s progress back towards trust.

For more information about the American business culture, please read my other articles on this topic:

For help breaking into the American market, please contact Becky DeStigter.