Cultural Differences – Poland

In Poland, how you communicate trumps what you communicate – in social as well as economic life – which means that harmonious social relations have top priority. In order to establish the personal relations that are essential for success with Polish business partners, you should make sure that you inquire about their family, make small gifts and explicitly express your gratitude. You will also get more credit in Poland than anywhere else in the world for having some knowledge of the local language or culture. Superficial small talk, however, is not very popular. It is really more about getting to know each other well personally, before you work together. Simply talking about the weather is not going to help.

Politeness is Part of Polish Mentality

Conversations with Poles are generally very polite and little direct. Arguments should be avoided in order to prevent damage to personal relations. Poles find it very difficult to separate the professional from the personal when disputes arise. Thus, if you argue with a Pole about a business detail, you will inevitably offend him personally. The role and the individual can hardly be separated from one another in Polish business culture.

Thus, creating a harmonious atmosphere is crucial for a problem to be openly discussed. Anything else can jeopardise the entire personal and, in turn, business relationship. Difficult negotiations are thus always accompanied by personal conversations. It is important to continually highlight the possible success for both sides in order to maintain a positive prevailing mood at any point in the negotiations.

In some countries, collaborations or joint projects are generally developed and evaluated on the basis of concrete facts. In Poland, collaboration is deemed a success as soon as a good business relationship has been established. That is the case if the benefits of a business partnership are equal for both sides. Even if the figures don’t equate to a genuinely successful project, the relationship is being valued and looked after in the long term. Here, again, it is obvious, which priorities dominate business culture.

Scope for the Unforeseen

Poland is believed to be a polychronic culture, which means Poles generally deal with several things at the same time. Their behaviour is based on this understanding of time, which is often interpreted as chaotic and unclear by people from other cultures. It is very important for polychronic cultures to have as much scope for the unforeseen as possible. At the same time, it becomes obvious that, in Polish business culture, the focus lies on the present and not on planning for the future.

You will, for example, rarely find an agenda prepared for a meeting in advance and discussed point-by-point. Instead, meetings drift along. When you thus end up jumping from one topic to another, the necessary information will be provided spontaneously.

No 1 Rule of Conduct: Learn to Respect Signals

Whilst people from some cultures don’t really register such individually scattered pieces of information, for Poles this method of distributing information is completely sufficient. They pick up the individual pieces of information bit by bit and join them together to form a coherent overall picture. Some foreign business partners, on the other hand, wait in vain for a clarifying summary. Their lack of “vision” to conclude the overall picture can easily cause them difficulties in Poland. They are simply unable to absorb everything that is happening around them.

The Duty to Gather Your Own Information

The topic of punctuality is often a cause of arguments between Poles and their foreign business partners. Poles do, in fact, generally arrive on time to business appointments. However, arrangements that have been made far in advance are generally seen more as a rough guideline in Polish culture. One tries to keep to the specified time frame, but if the circumstances require it, agreed deadlines are extended at one’s own discretion. The business partner will not be informed about this, which can quickly lead to displeasure.

People from some cultures naturally assume that everyone affected will be informed when difficulties arise. There is a duty to inform. In Polish business culture, however, the duty to gather your own information dominates, that means that you are responsible for any missing information, and you will have to, for example, gather the relevant explanations if delivery is delayed.

Paternalistic Corporate Governance

Family is of great importance in Polish culture. In business life it thus becomes apparent that, despite clearly defined hierarchy levels in a company, managers always feel responsible for the well-being of their junior employees. If, for example, an employee is ill, his superior will call him regularly at home to inquire about his state of health. The separation between professional and private life, particularly if the affected employees are on different hierarchy levels does not exist here. Instead, loyal bonds are particularly pronounced, especially with the lower hierarchies. It is just as hard to separate professional and private life as it is to separate ones role from the individual. The head in a company is also the boss on a private level and should live up to his higher responsibility.

Western Work Practices are Accepted

In Poland, younger employees in particular have already adopted a lot of Western business culture. The fact that many of them speak fluent German or English and have already lived abroad has certainly contributed to this. For foreign business people is it, nevertheless, important to treat the Polish host culture with respect and tolerance and under no circumstances display arrogant behaviour. Those who accept the existing cultural differences in communication patterns, and understandings of time in particular, will be greeted with open arms in one of Europe’s most hospitable countries.

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