Polish and British business people are very alike. Business is business. If we are talking about countries such as India or Japan – this is a different story. But there aren’t any significant cultural differences in Europe. We’re all the same. – This is what I often hear from both British and Polish business people in private and public sector. And they are very mistaken.
Real life examples
I have chosen two real-life examples that illustrate the challenges of intercultural communication – both from Great Britain.
- The executives of a SME in Great Britain were wondering why their Polish counterparts were taking so long to reply to important emails. It would sometimes take up to two weeks until they finally received a reply. They came to the conclusion that the contractual arrangement was encountering problems. I can only agree – it is astonishing how long it sometimes takes to get a reply from my home country, even when the subject matter is of high priority.
- A Polish executive in the UK was receiving feedback from his British employees that their Polish supervisor was being perceived as rude. It is fair to say that even a certain level of proficiency in a language does not guarantee a successful communication. Poland and Great Britain belong to cultures with different communication styles (low context vs. high context). Polish simply speak their mind, whereas British use understatement to hide the real message in order to be polite. Apparently, the Japanese score the highest when it comes to high-context – their ‘yes’ can mean ‘no’ at times. In Europe, however, it’s the British who have mastered the use of understatement – not the Polish, not the Germans. What would be the difference between: ,Do it, please’ and ‘I was wondering whether you could spare a minute and have a look at…’? Obvious. But hold on… Perhaps it is not that obvious at all? No wonder why some British see their Polish colleagues as blunt communicators. You can never be too polite here, not in the office, not when dealing with a customer.
What can you do?
We all speak our culture. The first misunderstanding was caused by the lack of knowledge about how things work over there and could be easily addressed with a help of a cultural consultant. All the British company needed was a bit of explanation and reassurance that things were indeed going well. The second example proves how important it is to address the challenges of the different communication styles. In the above situation, each of the sides tried to impose its communication style on the others. But it simply doesn’t work this way.
What is cultural awareness training?
There is only one solution to address these and similar issues: cultural training. Familiarize yourself with:
- social and business etiquette
- communication style
- nonverbal communication (body language)
- time and space perception
- dress code
- facts about the countries, practicalities of life
Book your cultural training session today
Trading cross-culturally requires preparation. It’s takes more than using a translating company and hiring a native speaker. Cultural competence will help you to understand different perspectives, improve communication (verbal and written) and elimination of stereotypes and prejudices and, in consequence, will increase your chance of success.
Katarzyna Lanucha is a Cambridge-based Language and Culture Consultant. She is the founder of Speak Culture and a part-time Language Teacher at the University of Cambridge. Katarzyna offers language tuition and Cultural awareness training for business.