Agreements are like the air we breathe. We discuss, enter into, and fulfill them. On a daily basis. Most are simple and routine. Others are complex and situation-based. How do Americans handle agreements?


A yes in the American context is more the rule than exception. Americans almost instinctively say yes to assisting a colleague or to serving a customer. Reacting quickly with a no is interpreted as negative, unhelpful, uncooperative. 

The American yes, however, can signal different levels of commitment. The unreflected yes means: “In principle I want to help you. I‘ll think about if and how I can.” The level of commitment is clarified by questions about time, resources, interest, and other obligations.



A no in the American context is far more the exception than the rule. Americans pride themselves on being a can-do people, of being open, helpful, good neigbors. They believe in cooperation, teamwork, volunteerism. Americans do not feel comfortable saying the word no.

To reject a request out of hand is to negate these values. An American no, therefore, comes in the form of a strongly conditioned yes. The conditions communicate the reasons why yes is not possible.



Because follow-up in the U.S. context is frequent, and because agreements can increase and decrease in priority, Americans enter into agreements quickly and without discussing their overall context in great detail.

The parties of an agreement are in constant communication with each other. Full context information need not be communicated all at once during the very first conversation. The term is back-loading.



In the American context, because people enter into many agreements and on a constant basis, follow-up is essential. It is how Americans maintain a common understanding of the status and priority of any given agreement. In many cases, parties to an agreement arrange predetermined times to communicate with each other. In other words, they schedule their follow-up.



Americans expect initial parts of a deliverable as quickly as possible. A partial deliverable early often meets the needs better than the complete product on time. The remaining parts of the deliverable are then supplied promptly. Speed is preferred to completeness.