5 Cross Cultural Tips for Business Travelers in Poland

07/12/2017 10:12 am ET

As the 5th largest European Union economy, one of the top five European FDI destinations, and the industrial powerhouse of Central Europe, Poland is attracting the attention of businesses and investors worldwide. With Poland’s surging private sector and trade now comprising 96 percent of its GDP, it’s more important than ever for international business professionals to master concepts of Polish business culture. For those planning to collaborate in Krakow or work out deals in Warsaw, these five international protocol tips to help you navigate the nuances of Polish business.

  1. Making Contact:  Polish business culture bears traces of its tumultuous Soviet-era past and history of foreign domination; Polish professionals may be suspicious of international business visitors and those they don’t know well. Making initial contact through a mutually-respected third party will inspire respect leading to a trusting relationship. Conduct first meetings face-to-face to assist with communication and reduce ambiguity.
  2. Planning Appropriately: When doing business in Poland, it’s important to confirm appointments both upon arrival in the country, and the day before your scheduled meeting time. Strive to plan meetings in the mornings between 10 am and noon or in the afternoons between 2 and 4. Avoid summer meetings in June, July and August, when many Poles are on vacation or “holiday.”
  3. Upholding Hierarchy: Polish organizations strongly respect hierarchy and authority, a characteristic reflected in many business formalities and customs. Age, education level, and experience are the backbone of business hierarchy, and each stratus has specific responsibilities over subordinate levels. Decisions are made at the top, and negotiations are conducted with the appropriate level of authority, rather than with a subordinate. When addressing your Polish colleagues, show proper respect by using their title and last name until instructed otherwise. Superiors in age or rank are addressed by their title. In formal contexts, use the form of address Pan for men and Pani for women, followed by their professional title.
  4. Candid Conversation: Poles express their thoughts and opinions openly, believing that it is more advantageous to both parties to speak directly than to use indirect or coded phrasing. While this may seem blunt to international visitors, remember that this directness is cultural communication. To the extent you are comfortable, match this direct communication style by expressing your views clearly and candidly.
  5. Gift Giving: Gift giving is a customary part of Polish business culture, with token gifts exchanged at first meetings and later at deal closings, successful negotiations and signed contracts. Offer a corporate gift free of any company logos or branding, or a souvenir from your home country. Other options include fine chocolates, cigars, quality liquor, flowers, or wine. Avoid yellow chrysanthemums, lilies, and carnations as these are associated with funerals and will be poorly received.

Poland’s internationalized economy is reaching new heights of economic preeminence, and businesses worldwide are taking notice. If your next business voyage brings you to the streets of Warsaw or avenues of Krakow, consider these tips for successful communication and culturally-savvy interactions.

Sharon Schweitzer, J.D., is a cross-cultural trainer, modern manners expert, and the founder of Protocol & Etiquette Worldwide. In addition to her accreditation in intercultural management from the HOFSTEDE centre, she serves as a Chinese Ceremonial Dining Etiquette Specialist in the documentary series Confucius was a Foodie, on Nat Geo People. She is the resident etiquette expert on two popular lifestyle shows: ABC Tampa Bay’s Morning Blend and CBS Austin’s We Are Austin. She is regularly quoted by BBC Capital, Investor’s Business Daily, Fortune, and the National Business Journals. Her Amazon #1 Best Selling book in International Business,  Access to Asia: Your Multicultural Business Guide, now in its third printing, was named to Kirkus Reviews’ Best Books of 2015. She’s a winner of the British Airways International Trade Award at the 2016 Greater Austin Business Awards.

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