At the heart of Europe lies Poland, its ninth largest country rich in history with a diverse and unique culture. Like Slovakia, it is a deeply religious nation, whereby religion is entrenched in all parts of Polish society and culture. It also bears cultural quirks such as lift etiquette requiring you to press ‘1’ when you want to go to the 2nd floor, as the 1st floor is considered as floor ‘0’. Moreover, the Polish alphabet consists of 32 letters as opposed to 26 and Poland is one of few countries that still carry out courteous hand kissing.
Poland is also an attractive place for foreign investment. Thanks to its strategic location as a gateway to emerging markets of Central and Eastern Europe, it offers worthwhile opportunities: its GDP is increasing three times faster than the average in Europe, incentives are offered to foreign investors and they boast an extremely high quality workforce, to name but a few. However, there is no point going head first like a bull in a china shop without the correct tools to help you make the most of your global venture. Embracing their different approach to business will afford you an advantageous step up that Polish business ladder. Below is an introduction to the world of Polish business and cultural conventions: –
P Polish punctuality
Their business motto is ‘Time is money’ and office hours (private sector) generally start between 7-8am. It is therefore essential that you follow their protocol and arrive punctually to your appointment in Poland; otherwise your behaviour will be seen as unprofessional and discourteous. It will also reflect unreliability and land you a black mark before you’ve even started negotiations.
O Observe the family code
Akin to Slovakia, family is at the core of Poland’s social structure and duty to family will always come first. This means that relationships are based on trust, making honesty a highly valued commodity in communication. Business relationships will take time to develop and for trust to be established, but once you have reached that ‘inner circle’, you will become like family.
L Languish in their beautiful language
Although English language levels are particularly good in Poland, it will still go a long way to helping solidify the business relationship if all your documentation is translated into Polish. Going on your business trip equipped with a few basic greetings such as ‘Dzien dobry’ (good day) or ‘Do widzenia’ (goodbye) would likewise be useful. It also demonstrates respect for your potential business partners.
A Apt business dining etiquette
Business dining is taken seriously in Poland, as Polish people are very proud of their cuisine. It is more than likely that foreign visitors will be entertained in a good quality restaurant, whereby your counterparts will cover everything, from choosing and booking the venue, to paying the bill. Don’t worry though if a traditional Polish restaurant is selected, you won’t be left to tread water, as the host will usually help by offering suggestions. Dress code is smart and formal so avoid offending your host by turning up in casual attire. ‘Smacznego’ (enjoy your meal) is the cue to start your meal.
N Navigate your way round the meeting protocol
Firm handshakes with everyone attending the meeting both on arrival and on departure are customary, as is direct eye contact, but avoid shaking hands in a doorway as this is considered bad luck in Poland. Likewise, refrain from asking the question ‘How are you?’ as this is not the norm and is more likely to confuse your Polish counterparts; they tend to take these types of questions literally. In any case, do ensure you use the correct form of address, ‘Pan’ for men and ‘Pani’ for women, followed by their surname. Plus, if you don’t want your business venture to trip at the first hurdle, never keep your hands in your pocket, it shows complete disrespect.
D Decision-making and business meeting etiquette
Since meetings are based on hierarchy it is advisable to set up a meeting with the appropriate decision maker, as this will help speed up the negotiation process. It is likewise important that you call them the day before to confirm the meeting. Recommended times to schedule morning meetings are between 10am-12pm and afternoon ones between 2-4pm, avoiding the months of June-August, which have potential to conflict with summer holidays. Since Poland is a particularly religious nation, it would be useful to become acquainted with the country’s religious holidays, as trying to do business in Poland on these days would be futile.
Don’t be surprised if the first few business meetings veer more towards small talk, broaching subjects such as family and public life, rather than proper business discussions. It is all part and parcel of building a strong rapport and means that your Polish counterparts need time to make their mind up about you. They are generally more cautious and reserved when it comes to business etiquette with a more tentative approach to business. Nonetheless, they can be particularly frank talkers; they tell it like it is. Do not be offended by this openness and show of emotion, it avoids ambiguity, but they will always be polite and diplomatic. Follow their lead by being open and honest; it will help build trust and better relations.
With these few tips, you will be pole vaulting your way into Polish business before you know it!
By Madeline Prusmann, Project Manager, February 2017