Ask the specialst: Does small talk make sense?

Small Talk or Big Talk

The British are world champions in small talk. One of our training participant asked us: ‘What is the purpose of small talk? To me it sounds like a waste of time’

Hence the question: Does small talk make sense at all? 

Our consultant Wojciech Kolodziejczak explains: 

The small talk is actually a very powerful tool and it has a goal of breaking the ice and bringing people together. It is indispensable at every contact – both during the first meeting and during subsequent meetings (even during negotiations!). 

  1. It is a tool used to break the ice, loosen up the situation and find things we have in common. Once you have established at least one common interest you can focus on that for a while to get to know the person better.
  2. Helps to relax – Meeting people at business meetings can be very stressful and small talk helps you and the other person to relax.
  3. People buy people, not their products, and small talk is a great opportunity to check who we are dealing with and whether there is any “synergy” and potential to build a good and lasting relationship.
  4. It makes it easier to stay away from emotional subjects like politics, religion and other topics that could “build a wall” between people.
  5. Gather facts – In a very non-intrusive way you can gather interesting facts ( like hobbies and interests etc. ) about the other person. People appreciate when you listen and show interest in them.
  6. People feel more comfortable if their views and beliefs are not being questioned or evaluated.
  7. Know – Like – Trust – With small talk you are not trying to “sell them anything” which is a great way of starting “KNOW-LIKE-TRUST” process. It sounds like we should call it: BIG TALK

A great example is Queen Elizabeth, who often asks her guests during the audience:

  • Queen Elizabeth: “Have you come from far?”
  • The Guest: “Your Majesty, I have travelled from Manchester”
  • Queen Elizabeth: “I really enjoyed my last trip to Manchester several years ago…”

The principle is simple – she speaks about things, places known to the guest. She talks about the place or asks questions about it. Then, she listens to the answers and follow up on those subjects she can explore further. She is looking for common ground or interests that they can chat about and start to build rapport.

Avoid taboo topics such as religion, politics and immigration, and earnings.
Let’s look for what unites us, not what divides us.

About the author: Wojciech Kolodziejczak
Wojciech is an International Business Developer, Cross-cultural Networker and Public Speaker. His mission is to promote cross-cultural networking and to educate professionals that building strong business relations can help them grow their careers, businesses and personal lives. I have been advising small businesses and corporate clients about business development and marketing opportunities in the UK and Poland. I have been also assisting migrant businesses as a speaker and business trainer specialized in cross-cultural networking and business development.

More about Wojchiech:

Working with the Japanese


4 ‘rituals’ to make a smooth welcome for your Japanese business relations

Risk-averse, hierarchy, apply-rules, indirect, attention to the details, conflict avoidance…. These are some of the general Japanese characteristics that are embedded in their subconscious mind, influencing their behaviours.

Some are quite an opposite to the Dutch and I receive tons of questions about the Japanese business culture. Today, I share some Japanese business “rituals” that will be handy to know when you are welcoming your Japanese business relations to your office.

1. Ritual of Preparation 準備

Preparation for any action is considered highly important by the Japanese, as it contributes to an immaculate result and success of any performance or action. The Japanese invest ample time and energy for preparation, from wearing Kimono, making Sushi to conducting business!  

Preparation helps their risk-averse nature. Good preparation would avoid making mistakes and pitfalls.  The Japanese will do utmost to be well-organized, on time and prepared for the visit. They would request for the information and details related to the topic of meetings and a thought-through schedule of the day. Business agility is what many professionals opt for in this era of digital transformation. Japanese style of preparation may seem too much burden or even a destruction to your routine. But by responding timely to their request, you will save much time to do business with them later. Laying a good foundation for later business.

TIP: Always it is appreciated to provide extra information such as your company culture, dress code in the office(formal, informal), surroundings (sightseeing possibility? ) and the weather. So there will be no surprises and have an idea what to expect!

2. Ritual of Greeting 挨拶

You may have heard millions of times about “Japanese business card rituals”, dedicating some moments to introduce themselves by presenting and receiving a business card in two hands, accompanied by a light bowing and some silent moments too.  It is beautiful as they do with our full attention and good intention and we all feel the good vibe during this ceremonial exchange.

Not only because it is a highly appreciative “business manner” in Japan, but it is also the momentum of an opportunity for anyone from any cultural background to connect from your heart, and build trust in a matter of a minute or so. The Japanese, treat business cards with respect, as an extension of ourselves which has our name, position, company are stated. If you don’t carry your business card, that is OK, but take a good respectable moment to receive business cards and introduce yourself. 

TIP: It is an instant mindful moment that you can benefit from and connect to your self first and connect to the others. This ritual of greeting is a  “Trust at First Sight” moment and seeding for a good relationship.

3. Ritual of Meals 食事

From breakfast, lunch to dinner,  from a small simple dish to a gourmet dinner, Japanese take much pleasure and appreciation to have a meal.  It is quality over quantity.  It can be a quick meal, but something that we can look forward. For lunch, in Japan, we enjoy “Bento box lunch” with rice and artfully arranged small portions of meat, fish, and vegetable.  It is an art of foods. 

We will not take a long lunch and a one-hour lunch break is normal.  When your Japanese business relations are on a visit to your office, they would probably be looking forward to lunch and are curious to try out the local specialty. 

TIP: Please do remember the importance of taking time for a meal. Eating together and sharing your food culture is the moment you can make bonding with the Japanese.

4. Ritual of Souvenir お土産

Art of giving a gift is an important part of Japanese culture, especially bringing a souvenir on a visit.  It is a gesture of appreciation and gratitude of any stage of relationships. 

In a business relationship, it is likely that the Japanese bring a small token of gift, something like beautifully wrapped cookies that can be shared in your office. Ask permission to open it, and unwrap the paper gently and never roughly tear it, as the wrapping is also a part of the gift and treat it gently.

TIP: From your office, you could also prepare a small gift, a box of cookies or chocolate, your local specialty as a souvenir to their visit and a token of starting or deepening your business relationship.

About the author: Azumi Uchitani

Azumi is a Japanese national, having spent half of her life in Europe (UK, Ireland, France, Netherlands) with over 20 years of experience in cross-border business development and post-merger integration at leading global companies.

he helps management teams to deal with the Japanese – European cultural differences and make a positive outcome, through seminars, inter-cultural training (among others for Akteos), and coaching sessions. She is also known as an inspirational speaker and teacher and spoken at several times TEDx, bringing Japanese mindfulness to business and life.

More info about Azumi:


Christmas around the world – Celebrate something new



Six most remarkable Christmas traditions 

While Christmas may have begun solely as a Christian holiday, and is often still celebrated as such, people from all over the world have embraced the festive season and added their own traditions along the way. Smiley snowmen, lush christmas trees and Santa Claus still reign supreme. But if you look close enough you will discover some very different takes on December’s most famous day.


1. Japan: KFC Christmas dinner

Back in 1974, the American fast-food restaurant KFC released a festive marketing campaign in Japan. The seemingly simple slogan “Kurisumasu ni wa kentakkii!” (Kentucky for Christmas!) spawned a national tradition that still thrives to this day. Although Christmas is not even a national holiday in Japan, families from all over the country head to their local KFC for a special Christmas Eve meal.
Learn more: Country course Japan 

2. Venezuela: Roller Skate Mass

On Christmas morning city dwellers of the Venezuelan capital of Caravas make their way to mass on roller skates. This unique tradition is so popular that roads across the city are closed to cars so that people can skate to church in safety, before heading home for the less-than-traditional Christmas dinner of ‘tamales’ (a wrap made out of cornmeal dough and stuffed with meat, then steamed).

3. Germany: Pickle in the Tree

The Christmas tree tradition embraced around the world today is believed to have started in Germany back in the 16th Century, so it comes as no surprise that they still have some funny customs relating to the festive trees. One of these is to hide a pickle somewhere within the branches of the tree, and give a gift to whichever child in the household finds it.

Some claim that the tradition may not be German after-all. One legend says that the Christmas pickle originated in Spain when two young boys were held as prisoners inside a pickle barrel. Saint Nicholas rescued the boys and brought them back to life. Either way, a pickle on the Christmas tree is a tradition we can totally get behind. Learn more: Country course Germany  

4. Canada: The mailbox of Santa Claus

Did you know that Santa Claus has his own postal address? His mailbox is in Canada and if you write him a letter before December 16, you will get one back. In more than thirty possible languages, including Braille. Send your letter to Santa Claus, North Pole H0H 0H0, Canada. It’s free and you do not need a stamp, because Santa Claus is just great. Just like the postcode of the North Pole.

5. Norway: Flying Witches and brooms

In Norway, brooms and mops are hidden during Christmas. Not because people do not feel like cleaning up, but because the Norwegians are a little superstitious. The tradition dates back to the days when people thought that witches and evil spirits would come through the chimney during Christmas. To this day, many people still hide their brooms in the safest place in the house to prevent them from being stolen for a ‘joyride’.

6. Russia: 12-course dinner

The Orthodox Church follows the Julian Calendar for religious holidays, so Christmas is celebrated in Russia on January 7. Many people fast until Christmas dinner arrives. It is only when the first stars appear in the sky on Christmas Eve that food can be eaten again. And not just: a 12-course dinner, meant to honor the 12 apostles.
Learn more: Country course Russia

About our Country courses

Doing business and/or working in an international environment not only requires expertise but above all the ability to adapt. Especially as each country has a different way of thinking about hierarchy, showing emotions during business discussions, time management and the need, or not, to reach consensus.

Bridge cultural differences
Insight in your own cultural profile is the startingpoint of our trainings. 

The Akteos Country – and Cultural Awareness courses will help you to be succesful in an international setting and communicate effectively, have successful meetings and negotiations with your new business partners. 

Dutch business culture – Anecdotes from outside the fishbowl

An important step towards becoming a competent player in the international work environment is having a good understanding about one’s own culture. Like water to a fish, the influence of our own culture is often invisible to us. Getting an outsider’s perspective can help exploring the waters we swim in and learning more about our own cultural baggage. [Read more…]

How to act in unfamiliar situations

Wednesday 16 May 2018

The France Chamber of Commerce in Sweden, the CCFS, welcomed Anne Marie van Schaik (accountmanager) and Fanny Spruytte (consultant) from Akteos. Akteos offers intercultural training courses to improve your communication and business skills. We help companies to be successful in an international setting. The focus during this 2-hours introduction workshop was on recognizing cultural similarities and differences (intercultural training).

Insight into Swedish and French (business) culture
Fanny Spruytte also introduced the Nomad’ network to a group of our members. This cultural profiler is an unique learning tool developed by Akteos experts based on 10 cultural dimensions. It helps you discover your communication and working style and other (culturally) determined preferences. It also allows you to compare your profile with other cultures: by comparing your profile you will become aware of the common denominators and cultural gaps. Fanny demonstrated this with the help of witty videos, pictures and real-life cases. Everybody felt addressed and recognised the similarities and differences between the Swedish and French (business) culture. This succesfull workshop came to an end with a glass of champagne. Read more 

Try our Nomad’ (cultural) Profiler yourself
All you have to do is ask for a demo.

Our training programmes are geared towards your specific needs. Please feel free to contact Anne Marie, accountmanager at Akteos: +31 (0)88 02 88 090 |

Webinar – Working Successfully in Virtual Teams

Enhance your business performance across countries, time zones and cultures!

In today’s business world, it is more the rule than the exception to be part of at least one team that is dispersed across continents. Without the option to easily connect during so-called watercooler moments or build trust based on face-to-face meetings, greater efforts are needed to achieve real teamwork in virtual (remote) teams. Challenges are augmented by cultural differences in communication styles and working practices which can increase misunderstandings and cause a loss of efficiency. This webinar helps you to become aware of the unique challenges that virtual teams face and aims to support both managers and team members with tools to improve overall team performance. [Read more…]

Free consultancy – Working with the Japanese

Planning a business trip to Japan or working with the Japanese? Meet Azumi Uchitani, our leading Japanese senior executive consultant and TEDx speaker. We are pleased to offer you one hour of free coaching with Azumi to leverage your business in Japan. [Read more…]

Vacancy – Trainer Poland

Akteos Netherlands, based in Amsterdam since 2013, provides training, coaching and consultancy for companies that operate internationally. The focus is on recognising and exploiting cultural differences (inter-cultural communication management training). Our consultants are specialists in their field, and deliver out training courses worldwide. At this moment Akteos is looking for a :

freelance trainer Poland

[Read more…]

Vacancy – Trainer India

Akteos Netherlands, based in Amsterdam since 2013, provides training, coaching and consultancy for companies that operate internationally. The focus is on recognising and exploiting cultural differences (inter-cultural communication management training). Our consultants are specialists in their field, and deliver out training courses worldwide. At this moment Akteos is looking for a :

freelance trainer India

[Read more…]

Vacancy – Trainer Turkey

Akteos Netherlands, based in Amsterdam since 2013, provides training, coaching and consultancy for companies that operate internationally. The focus is on recognising and exploiting cultural differences (inter-cultural communication management training). Our consultants are specialists in their field, and deliver out training courses worldwide. At this moment Akteos is looking for a :

freelance trainer Turkey

[Read more…]