Whether you’re British or Polish, you’ll never get a second chance to make a strong first impression in business networking!
And that’s why we want to make it right. But what’s considered ‘right’? The answer is: There is no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ across cultures. Instead, we should orientate ourselves for our opposite numbers’ expectations. As always in business, our national culture will tell us what is suitable and what isn’t. Here, on British soil, we have to play by the British networking rules – and of course the same applies to the British in Poland. How are the networking rules different in each country?
- Small Talk or Big Talk?
The reason why networking has been so successful in the UK is because people have developed topics to be used when talking to a complete stranger: small talk. Something Polish people all have to get used to once they are engaging with British people.
Your counterpart does not really need to know how your journey went, but she or he is simply acknowledging your presence by asking the question – it is like saying hello. It is showing interest, a ritual even. If you ignore this once-in-a-lifetime invitation to begin the bonding through small talk, you might unwittingly disconcert them.
On the other hand, Polish business people might go straight to business point so as to prove that they are not wasting your time – this is their sign of interest in you. Small talk can be perceived as wasting everyone’s time.
PL: Don’t miss the chance of connecting with someone due to lack of British business social skills!
EN: Don’t be put off if a non-native speaker hasn’t mastered small talk to perfection!
- Showing interest
It’s not about you, it’s about the other person. By listening to them you are showing interest. Or maybe not? Maybe listening is a sign of weakness and admitting that you have nothing interesting to say or aren’t interested in your prospect?
Polish people have a habit of interrupting one another, which in their eyes may be a sign of interest, enthusiasm and dedication. By being very passive, you might be sending a signal that you are not interested in the speaker.
British people, on the other hand, prefer and are very good at taking turns in conversation. This illustrates a strong sense of fairness, which is a very important value in Britain. If you keep talking and fail to show interest in the other person, you are sending a very strong message – you do not care about them.
PL: Remember to take turns!
EN: Don’t be afraid of breaking into the conversation!
- Fine feathers make fine birds
This goes without saying. And presents yet another cross-cultural pitfall: Dress code.
Eccentric outfits, flamboyant colours and flashy designer labels may be OK in the Polish business setting. British business style is somewhat ‘stuffy’, although you will definitely come across fewer ties than in Poland. When it comes to women, in Poland, you can come across sexy miniskirts, low cut necklines and bright coloured stilettos – the kind of clothing you should avoid in the UK if you want to be taken seriously as a business person.
PL / EN: Be aware of the impact of the message your appearance is making on others!
- Read between the lines. Or say directly what you think?
Ever heard it said that Polish people come across as brusque or rude? It is clear why – this is because we prefer to say what we mean, whereas British people hide the meaning using subtext that Polish people might not pick up on. Literal translation from Polish into English can be seen as too direct or sometimes even aggressive!
The use of language as such, is another potential problematic area. Whatever your level of language when you arrive in the country, it is very important that you keep improving your language abilities.
Native speakers, on the other hand, sometimes seem completely unaware of their lack of adaptation when talking to foreigners. They often speak too fast, use acronyms and slang. Just take a look at this article:
PL / EN: Keep improving your language skills! Make more effort to be understood!