Are you a peach or a coconut? Showing friendliness and warmth in business English

Are you a peach or a coconut?

peach or coconut intercultural communication
Photo by S O C I A L . C U T on Unsplash

During my last trip to the UK, I hired a car at the airport.

Whilst I was waiting in the car hire showroom, the assistants began to make conversation with me.

They asked me how my flight was, where I was travelling, whether I was on a business journey or meeting family, and so on. They were trying to show friendliness, be positive and put me in a good mood. However, both sides knew that we were not trying to develop a friendship. We were both aware that the interaction was a superficial one. We were being friendly to each other, but we weren’t creating a friendship.

Culture specialist Kurt Lewin would describe this kind of interaction taking place in a peach culture. People tend to be friendlier with others that they have just met. They may share information about themselves, use first names, or even ask personal questions. However, if you go any further you reach a hard shell – there is usually no desire to develop a friendship.

I’ve had a number of experiences with customer service in Germany that are very different to the one I’ve just described in the UK.

When I first arrived in Germany, my impression of those who served me in shops were that they were cold and offhand. Sometimes I even found them to be a little rude! Where was the smile and the small talk?

Over time I got used to being treated with a minimum of contact and a minimum of friendliness. I began to realise that it wasn’t personal and it wasn’t because people didn’t like me. I began to understand to that the focus was on the product and the price, rather than creating ‘good feelings’. It took me a while to get to know people, but, once I did, I found that Germans were warm and friendly towards me – and that this was a sign of offering genuine friendship.

Kurt Lewin describes this interaction as taking place within a coconut culture. In a coconut culture, people are more closed. They don’t immediately smile at people or ask personal questions. However, over time they become warmer and friendlier, and any ‘friendliness’ demonstrates genuine friendship.

Why do native English speakers behave like peaches? Are there any advantages in you becoming ‘peachier’? In his book ‘What They Don’t Teach You at Harvard Business School‘, Mark McCormack says the following:

All things being equal, people will buy from a friend. All things being not quite so equal, people will still buy from a friend.

You can therefore see that demonstrating warmth and friendship, albeit on a superficial level, is promoted as a way of doing business. It’s even expected of you if you wish to be more successful.

So, how can you be peachier in your business dealings?
  1. Be warm
    Be warm in your dealings with people. Smile and say hello. Be a person with an identity.
  2. Be personable
    Choose a friendlier, more personable means of communication when the opportunity is offered to you. For example, you could decide to pick up the phone instead of writing an email.
  3. Make small talk
    If you’re visiting an English-speaking country or are in a meeting, take some time to informally communicate with people. Be interested in their lives, ask questions and make small talk!
  4. Phrases for small talk
    Here are some phrases you could use when making small talk:
    So, how are you enjoying…?
    Am I right in thinking you…?
    So, tell me more about…?
    Oh, that’s interesting, because I….?
  5. It’s up to you
    Remember that it’s up to you how much you want to reveal. You don’t have to talk about everything. Choose the cards from your hand that you want to show.

Overall, keep in mind the difference between friendliness and friendship.

So, how do you start improving your business English?

Well, that’s where I can help you. I worked in a variety of industries in the UK (have a look at my LinkedIn profile) so I’m happy to share my knowledge of business English with you. Contact me here.

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