One evening I was enjoying dinner with some friends in San Francisco at one of those restaurants where you could watch the cooks work in the kitchen. (I actually hate those kind of restaurants. Who wants to see a cook sweating in your food or picking up stuff off the floor and plating it?)
Suddenly, we heard a bunch of commotion and immediately saw a heated argument between the chef and one of his cooks. Arms were flailing. Voices were raised. Obscenities were shouted.
Jaws on diners dropped as the chef shouted at the cook "Get the (insert choice word here) out!" You could read the panic on the diners' faces: What's going to happen next? Should we leave? Are we safe here?
Being from the East Coast where shouting and swearing isn't too uncommon, I didn't see the big deal.
The chef realized he had created a stir and came out to refill water glasses and calm his guests. As soon as he spoke, I understood. He was a New Yorker. I empathized and said that while I knew that's pretty rare here in San Francisco, its all good in New York City.
In doing a lot of business in cities like New York, Boston, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Phoenix, I've realized there are some pretty big differences between the two coasts of the U.S. The climate is different. The people look different. The architecture is different. But the way people interact in business is also very different.
Here are three variances to take into consideration when doing business on the East and West coasts of the country.
On the East coast, people are more direct. When someone says "yes," that means they heard you and they agree. When someone says "no," that doesn't mean they're upset. Rather it means they aren't convinced yet or interested in doing it.
People are more curt. Their sentences are shorter, perhaps, even harsher sounding. East coasters aren't afraid to give constructive feedback in a direct way. For example, I recently heard one guy say to another, "Get out of here with that idea! It stinks!"
If this way of communicating is new to you, don't take it personally. Just come back with another option.
If you're doing business on the West coast, people will likely communicate more indirectly. You won't hear someone so readily criticize an idea. Instead, they'll say something like, "I see your point," or "Let's consider some other options as well." They are more diplomatic--softer and sweeter, even.
You also won't hear the word "no" as frequently. And when you hear the word "yes," it may mean they're just listening. It doesn't necessarily mean they're going to take action. Be sure to ask follow-up questions to be clear on what they plan to do next.
On the East coast, humor will get you far. East coasters like snappy comebacks. They appreciate a good joke.
For example, I was leading a meeting where one of the organization's managers took the floor and went on and on. I interrupted him, smiled, and said "John. Hey, come on. This is my show." He laughed, stopped talking, and let me continue to run the meeting. That joke gave me credibility.
Alternatively, on the West coast, being a cheerleader goes a long way. It's popular to celebrate successes and show enthusiasm. Use of hyperbolic words like fantastic, epic, and amazing is a good way to gain trust and commitment in business.
How you build relationships can vary, too, depending on what ocean you're closer to.
On the West coast, people often bond with colleagues and customers over a bike ride, walk, or time outside.
On the other side of the country, particularly in the northern cities where the weather isn't as nice year round, there's more of a pub culture. Common ground is found in pubs at happy hours.
Whether from inside or outside the U.S., it's important to pay attention to the East and West coast nuances. While there are consistencies in American business culture, taking note of these coastal variations can help tremendously in building relationships with potential business partners and colleagues.