The Internet TESL Journal

Mentality Awareness - A Key to Personal Success in International Business Contacts

Pavel V. Sysoyev
sysoyev [at]
English Language Department, Tambov State University, Russia

In teaching English to business students we accomplish their desire to know the language, which they need for business contacts. However, it does not mean complete and adequate preparation for international collaboration. Communicating with their foreign counterparts, businessmen encounter a different type of thinking, which determines decision-making. Thus, to be prepared for international cooperation Russian businessmen should be aware of the British mentality.

Dictionaries define the term 'mentality' as "person's habitual way of thinking" (Longman Dictionary, 1992: 652), "abilities of mind, which characterize an individual and his social class" (Reber, 1985: 454), "mode or way of thought" (Webster's Dictionary, 1991: 742).

Many features of the British mentality are described in R. Millrood's article, where he highlights three major mentality components: knowledge, attitude and behavior (Millrood R., 1997).

In our research we point out three mentality components as mentality set, perception and expression.


Mentality set is the subconscious readiness of an individual to behave or expect someone to behave according to certain socially accepted stereotypes. After psychological experiments, surveys, observations and talks with English students from the University of Northumbria and Manchester University, for British mentality we point out mentality sets shown in the following chart.

Mentality Set Description ------------- ----------- Individualism and independence People are seen as independent personalities with individual needs and right for private information. Egalitarianism People have equal opportunities to reach their goals. Optimism or Future orientation Englishmen believe that it doesn't matter what happened in the past and present, future will be happier and better. Informality In everyday life people show casual, egalitarian attitude towards each other. Personal Space Englishmen are particular about the physical distance between each other. Competition In British mentality competition is a good motivation for enterprising. Practicality Englishmen are seen as very efficient in decision making. (Kornilova T.V., Grigorenko E.L., 1995; Office of Intercultural Programs)
These mentality sets subconsciously play a pivotal role in the individual's perception and expression. However, as a rule, a mentality set will have its vivid layout in one of the elements, either expression or perception. Let's see the way mentality sets work, comparing Russians and British. Samples and conclusions do not mean that all British are like that, but they show the tendency.

We see expression as role-play and self-expression. Under perception we mean comprehension of the environment and outlook formation. The main mentality set impact on perception is that for some Englishmen the behavior of representatives from other cultures may seem strange.

Mentality differences between Russians and Englishmen may be shown in the following table.

Aspect of comparison Characteristics of Characteristics of British mentality Russian mentality -------------------- ------------------- -------------------- Business Matters Individualism Collectivism Making Idles Specification Generalization Future Plans Optimism Uncertainty Communication Informality Formality Work and Business Competition Cooperation Decision Making Practicality Emotions
In conclusion, as the examples show, British mentality characteristics are: individualism, optimism, informality, competition, practicality. Whereas Russians are formal, cooperative, emotional in decision making and with a strong sense of community.

The importance of studying mentality differences has practical implications. Russian businessmen, being aware of mentality differences, could avoid many cross-cultural and sub-cultural conflicts conflicts, which will lead to further international cooperation.


  1. Kornilova T. & Grigorenko E. Comparison of personal features of Russian and American students // Questions of Psychology. # 5, 1995. Pp.108-115.
  2. Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English. N.Y.: Longman, 1992.
  3. Millrood R. Mentality threshold of English and Russian students // Foreign Languages at School. - # 4, 1997. Pp. 17-22.
  4. Office of Intercultural Programs,
  5. Reber A.S. The pengiun dictionary of psychology. Harmondsworth, 1985.
  6. Webster's Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary. Massachusetts: Merriam-Webster, 1991.

The Internet TESL Journal, Vol. IV, No. 5, May 1998