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Professional Skills Workshop, Poland

posted on Monday 18th February

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We were pleased to deliver an English language workshop in Wroclaw, Poland. The aim of the workshop was to discuss the importance of ‘small talk’ in a business setting. While the participants all spoke English to a good level and often used it in a professional context, some admitted they found it difficult to use English in more casual circumstances. As useful as conducting official negotiations in English is, so too is being able to engage in the light-hearted, off-the-cuff conversation that sets it in motion.

The brief:

The workshop was with a prestigious IT firm which also has offices in Berlin and Helsinki. Business is frequently conducted in English.

The students:

While every member of the team has a good level of English (minimum B2) they find small talk very difficult. The reasons for this are twofold: cultural and personality. There is no culture of small talk in Poland. Small talk is frequently coloured as “phoney” and “an obstacle to getting down to business”. All of the workshop’s participants are high-level programmers, by their own admission “geeks” and “nerds”. While they would be very happy discussing items of business on an agenda, they feel rudderless in situations which require instinctive conversation.

Over the course of the workshop, we engaged in exercises designed to help them navigate through casual conversation in the workplace.

The target outcomes:

The goals were, in two hours, to:

  • Establish the importance of small talk in a professional environment (building trust, identifying and establishing a general tone for future communication to which both parties can relate)
  • Identify mechanisms for starting and perpetuating casual conversations Understand the idiosyncrasies of these conversations (ie. informal language, reciprocity, light-heartedness, avoiding taboo subjects etc)
  • Examine the importance of moderating and guiding the course of a conversation
  • Furnish participants with techniques for drawing the small talk phase of a business conversation to a close.

Results:

We were thrilled to receive a thoroughly positive response from everyone involved in the workshop. The responses received from participants included:

  • Understanding that the topics covered in small talk are not its primary function
  • Appreciating that small talk is the wrong place for assertiveness and that it should be interactional and not transactional
  • Appreciating the importance of moderating the direction and pace of a conversation

We are deeply grateful to You English for letting us be part of such a productive and useful exercise, and, since Wroclaw is Oxford’s newest twin city, we hope to be back in the city again very soon.