With the conference season upon us and the UK Export Week just round the corner, there’s never been a better time to brush up on your networking skills. Whether you’re heading to a business breakfast at your local Polish business club or a full-day international event in Warsaw, make sure you know how to mingle with the Polish folk. It’s unfair. Shameless. Even revolting how easily some business people manage to make crucial contacts, create opportunities and get what they’ve come for. Some just seem to have it all. Aren’t you tired of looking at the photographic evidence of their triumphs on Twitter? Sigh.
There’s no magic formula or secret ingredient that guarantees success in Polish networking. It’s all about knowing the Polish culture and applying this knowledge in a networking scenario. If the thought of approaching your Polish contact still strikes fear in your heart, then follow these five simple tips and start building a successful relationship with your Polish prospects.
1. Be formal
I can almost guarantee you’re going to think this is taking things a bit too far. You’re wrong. Polish business people, unlike their British counterparts, expect strangers to address them by their formal title and last name. In situations when less formality is required or when you already know the person well, the formal title can be followed by a first name. But even if you’re lucky to start enjoying a closer relationship, don’t drop the formal manner until the older (or the more senior) person of the two of you gives you the green light to be on first-name terms. Oh, they already have?! Bingo! Give yourself a pat on the back because this doesn’t happen very often. My proofreader and I have been working together for over six years and we still call each other ‘Mr’ and ‘Mrs’! Perhaps this wouldn’t be the case if he lived in the UK. The Polish business community here seems somewhat more relaxed about all these formalities.
2. Cut to the chase
Forget the weather. Talking about irrelevant things to break the ice with a Polish business person is unnatural, even strange. You’ll get brownie points for talking straight. So you think it’s rude? Quite the opposite! In Polish, ‘to talk polite’ used to mean ‘to talk to the point’. Make sure you don’t confuse or bore your Polish conversation partner with going round in circles. Being honest about your intentions is much more appreciated. No Polish networker likes a rambler, so don’t waste time on the small talk, say what you need and turn your contacts into contracts!
3. Get your hands out of your pockets
Now, it took me some time to get my head round this one. I can’t tell you where exactly this gem comes from. All I can remember is my head teacher punishing a group of my friends for doing it at school. In the Polish culture, keeping your hands in your pockets when talking to someone is considered disrespectful and rude, so avoid this one by all costs. People judge. All the time.
4. Ease down on cultural references
Aren’t we all guilty of peppering our conversations with culture-specific expressions? Such statements evoke an emotional response and eliminate the need to explain further. Hang on. But they only work if you and the person you want to network with come from the same culture! Unless your Polish business partner or client is well acquainted with the British culture, the chances are they’ll be all at sea. Oh no, I did it again! Now, would you have the time to explain to your new Polish colleague what this nautical phrase means and where it comes from? Of course not. They’ll already be talking to somebody else!
5. Don’t shy away from social events
Typically, Polish business people have a high appetitus societatis (appetite for socialising) which means they enjoy organising networking events without a clear purpose. Surprisingly, it’s at such social meetings that most valuable connections are forged. Don’t be a wallflower and stop nursing your warm glass of wine (sorry… I meant a shot of vodka), and make the most of the informal nature of the event to connect on a more personal level.
Katarzyna E. Slobodzian-Taylor
Mastermind Translations Ltd
English/Dutch to Polish Translation Specialist for Medicine, Pharma & Technology