Imagine a situation where you are standing in the room full of people during a networking event. You have just moved to this new city and are looking to get some new professional connections, which could possibly result in business collaboration soon. How will you approach the others? How will you start a conversation? How much time will you spend with one person? How many cards do you think you would give out?
Networking is a business skill that has become crucial over the last couple of years. Everyone does it, all over the world. The problem starts when you arrive in the new culture and start try to build relationships from scratch.
If you have lived or worked in the US or UK, you probably know that a small talk plays a very important part of the conversation and networking there. To be honest, until I moved from Poland to the UK I didn’t realize how important. For me some overheard conversations sounded extremely shallow at the beginning. How long are you able to talk about the weather or traffic? How many times can you ask the same person about their weekend plans or how their weekend has been? This was one of my Oz moments and behaviours that I found relatively hard to adapt to.
You might wonder why I found it so hard to get through this. It was probably because Poland in general as a cultural characteristic is a more relationship-based country than the UK. As much as I am a quite task-based person when it comes to work itself, looking at my networking experiences I think I didn’t appreciate how much I value genuine long-lasting relationships. I didn’t see the point in just having to ask how a person is without really meaning it or talking on some random topics before getting to business. For me it was either business conversation or a casual chat to really know what’s going on in the person’s life.
Quite quickly however I noticed that something is not right about my approach to the UK networking – I was often simply too direct in the business context.
Here are some tips on how to start thinking about cross-cultural networking:
- Observe – if you realise your networking style doesn’t quite match the local way of being, just take time to observe, join in to a couple of conversations, overhear people’s small talk in the lifts or on the corridors. From just observing you will be able to slowly get an understanding of how it works and what people value in these conversations
- Research – before you get to work with people from other cultures or move to the new environment, simply do some research on the place you’re going to. What are the common cultural values? What kind of communication style is generally preferred? Is there a hierarchy you need to be aware of? Is there an etiquette you need to follow? This will allow you to come into the room prepared and open to experiencing the new culture. Remember not to close yourself within the stereotypical thinking though!
- Practice – Practice makes perfect! Once you’ve observed how others do it and have read some things about the style that is common in this part of the world simply try attending the networking events and create your own genuine way of interacting with people. If it’s a new way of behaving it might be a bit stressful at first (as many other things can be when you’re moving abroad), but just go with it and the more you do it, the easier it gets.
Stay your true self, but be mindful of the differences in the role and styles of networking in different cultures.