Cultural Differences – Slovakia

Slovak culture is based on strong family orientation. As a result, individuals feel strongly connected to a “group of one’ s own” and are loyal this group; family and close friends as well as trusted business partners are always given the highest priority. On the other hand, it takes time for Slovaks to open up to new contacts and trust strangers. They show this restraint through a certain aloofness, that expresses itself as a serious look and an often almost exaggeratedly formality at work. However, as soon as a personal relationship develops further, Slovaks abandon their restraint and show a more emotional side in business as well.

Greeting and address

At your first business meeting, your future Slovakian business partners will be quite formal and aloof. After a strong handshake, both parties will usually introduce themselves to each other, stating their full names and all academic titles as well as their respective positions in the company. This is because titles and functions are often part of the address, especially if you are dealing with Slovaks of the older generation. The academic doctorate, the professional title of engineer or the position of managing director are also used. For instance, the person is addressed as “pán” (Mr) or “pani” (Mrs) followed by their title or function. In English: “Mr Engineer” or “Mrs General Manager”. First names are rarely used even in long-term business relationships.

Your business card should therefore include all relevant titles in addition to your contact details. If your company dates back a long time, it can also be advantageous to mention the date of its foundation, as experience and continuity are highly valued in Slovakia.

In summary, it can be said that you should clearly show who you are at your first business meeting in Slovakia. This applies both to the company and to your person. Seniority, hierarchy, experience and continuity are qualities that count in Slovak business culture.

Long-term maintenance of contacts

After the first business meeting, Slovaks are not interested in signing the contract as soon as possible, but in establishing a long-term personal relationship. As mentioned earlier, it is essential to belong to a “group of one’s own”. Because you only trust your own people. Therefore, Slovaks will only do real business with people with whom they have been able to build a trusting relationship and who fit well into their personal network of business relationships.

Slovaks are therefore primarily interested in long-term partnerships. This is why it is worthwhile to invest initially in the intensive cultivation of contacts. Take advantage of every small occasion to make personal contact. Congratulate your counterparts on their birthdays and name days, get in touch with them with new information and, above all, regularly travel to Slovakia for business meetings. Written correspondence alone is never enough in Slovakia.

Diplomatic style of communication

The initial restraint and reserve of the Slovaks is of course most noticeable in their style of communication. You should assume that a longer start-up phase is simply necessary before your Slovakian business partners no longer appear to be quite as cool and unwelcoming and finally talk to you in a more open and informal manner.

Moreover, the Slovakian communication style is context-oriented, i.e. your Slovakian business partners will not say what they mean, but rather express themselves indirectly. Pay attention to hints, gestures and facial expressions and always read between the lines. Eye contact is an important means of communication to signal honesty and sincerity. Lack of eye contact, on the other hand, indicates a lack of interest or information.

Usually a longer, more friendly dialogue is necessary for the precise facts to slowly emerge. Against this background, it is therefore often advisable not to start off with a detailed presentation or to present a project plan that has been perfected down to the smallest detail, but instead to discuss and develop things together step by step.

Due to the high group and relationship orientation, a good relationship between business partners is always the first priority for Slovaks. Consequently, people will try not to offend others with harsh words or a dismissive “no” but will express themselves as diplomatically and sensitively as possible. Any doubts about a proposal, for instance, are also not directly expressed. So, don’t wait for plain text, but ask cautiously if you feel things are not going smoothly.

Criticism is taken personally

If you disagree with something, be careful when voicing criticism. Remember that criticism is taken personally in Slovak culture. Slovaks are not familiar with constructive-objective criticism, which in other countries might be regarded as well-intentioned suggestions for improvement.

Instead, be generous in your praise and compliments in order to “bolster up” the relationship and only then hint cautiously as to what you think needs to be improved. Your counterparts will understand you perfectly!

Communication changes in time

Once a lasting and stable personal relationship between business partners is established, communication tends to be more open and direct. Nevertheless, Slovaks will still regard too much openness and directness as an affront. Even in long-standing business relationships, you should therefore ensure that you express yourself as friendly, respectfully and diplomatically as possible so as not to unnecessarily jeopardize the relationship. Never take a confrontational approach, because Slovaks cannot separate the factual level from relational level. Such an approach would jeopardize the personal relationship to the same extent as it would jeopardize the factual business relationship.

Meeting communication style

In Slovak companies, meetings are mainly held to pass on information – from top to bottom. Since organizations are usually strongly hierarchized, decisions are not made with everyone involved in the meeting itself, but only by the highest-ranking behind closed doors. Asking employees for their opinions during a meeting or developing new ideas together would be interpreted as a leadership weakness. That’s why employees are only given the floor at meetings when they have to explain a situation or need to share information in general.

Meetings between business partners always also serve to strengthen the personal relationship. So be prepared for small talk at the beginning of a meeting to create a good atmosphere before the conversation begins. In initial meetings, one may even dedicate oneself exclusively to getting to know each other and often the actual decision-makers are not even present themselves in this early phase.

For larger meetings, there is usually an agenda that is usually set by the highest ranking person in the hierarchy. He or she will also lead the meeting.

Meetings start punctually, but rarely end on time. This is because once the meeting is in full swing, Slovaks won’t always stick to the agenda, but will jump from topic to topic. One of the reasons for this is that they are able to collect information spread and gradually combine the various pieces of information into an overall picture. Foreign managers who might be used to a more disciplined approach to communication are often unable to cope with this type of information distribution.

Short, but substantive presentation

Presentations for a Slovak audience should be short and informative. However, as Slovaks want to get as much information as possible, it is advisable to include rich graphics and charts depending on the topic of the presentation and to provide more detailed calculations and details in the form of a handout. Be prepared for specific questions.

Conduct negotiations appropriately

When negotiating with Slovaks, it is crucial that the relationship between the negotiating partners is harmonious. Nevertheless, Slovaks will also closely examine and analyze a potential deal from a factual point of view. This can take some time, as in many cases various expert committees will be set up for this purpose. The final decision, however, is usually made by the head of the company or the highest ranking person.

Deadlocked negotiations can only be advanced by improving the relationship level with a lot of personal exchange before returning to the negotiating table and looking for a win-win solution for both sides. It is important to emphasize time and again the possible advantages for all parties involved in order to maintain a positive atmosphere at every stage of the negotiation.

Look out! Slovaks often assume that their West European or US-American business partners are under considerable time pressure, which is quite often actually the case. Therefore, delaying tactics can be part of their negotiation strategy. Don’t mention your upcoming return flight or urgent appointments back home at the negotiating table.

After the conclusion of the negotiations, detailed written contracts are the norm. Let experts advise you on the drafting of contracts.

Polychronic working style

Slovaks work in a very organized, formal and hierarchical way. By regional standards, Slovak employees are well educated and productive. However, they expect clear instructions and small checks by their superiors. They do not want too much room to maneuver, as greater responsibility is always associated with the danger of making mistakes and being called to account. In most countries of the former Soviet Union, employees prefer to keep a low profile, do a good job, but rarely go out of their remit. Initiative is not welcome even today.

Apart from that, Slovaks think and act polychronically. They usually do several things at the same time. This behavior, based on their polychronic understanding of time, is often misinterpreted by business partners from monochronic cultures s as chaotic because they are more used to working through one thing at a time.

Room for the unexpected

In polychronic cultures it is also important to have as much leeway as possible for unforeseen events. If a problem occurs, people will improvise in a skillful way. The focus is therefore always on the present, people do not like to plan for the future. After all, so much else can happen in addition to the what has been planned.

Because of this, Slovaks shy away from too detailed project plans. Long-term dates and deadlines are basically seen more as a rough framework. Efforts are made to keep to the schedule. But when circumstances require, the time frame will be extended as needed. Things go the way they go. The project partner is expected to trust that everything will turn out well in the end – which is usually the case.

Pay attention to the obligation to collect

In the Slovak business culture, the principle of the obligation to collect applies, i.e. you are responsible for gathering the information you need. If, for example, the deadline is exceeded during the course of the project, you as the client must collect the relevant declaration from the Slovak partner company yourself. Never take it for granted that if difficulties arise, all those affected will be kept up to date. In Slovakia, there is no obligation to deliver such information.

It is therefore important to maintain good personal contact with all the people responsible for the project. Keep in touch with them on a regular basis and actively ask them what the current situation is. Explain why it is important for you to meet a certain deadline. Due to the polychronic way the Slovaks work, it is important for you to remind them of your concerns over and over; otherwise other, fresher issues will have priority. On the other hand, due to the high degree of relationship orientation, people will be happy to do things for you as a person and not in chronological order.

Just prepare for and learn to work with the “out of sight, out of mind” attitude – which refers both to polychronic work and to the high relationship orientation of Slovaks!

Business meals and after work socializing

When your business relationship has matured, your Slovakian business partners will surely invite you to their home. You should definitely accept the invitation and make sure you find a suitable gift to take. Pralines, liqueurs, wines and specialties from your homeland are a good choice. A bunch of flowers for the lady of the house is also appreciated. This bouquet must be made up of an odd number of flowers, but never 13, as 13 is considered to be an unlucky number. Take off your shoes at the front door.

You can assume that they will offer you a variety of dishes. Courtesy demands that you initially refuse seconds, but then allow yourself to be persuaded to have some more. In general, you should take some of everything, finish your plate and praise the local cuisine.

Alcoholic drinks are always a must during meals and the mood is correspondingly cheerful. You will certainly toast your health several times. Say “Na zdravie” and look into the eyes of the person you are drinking with.

Note that in Slovak culture it is always up to the guest to end the meal, both during private visits and in restaurants. They must therefore find the right time to say goodbye. The guest then opens the door themselves and walks out. If the host were to do this, it would be tantamount, from a Slovak point of view, to throwing the guest out.

Dress code

Being well dressed is really important in Slovak business life. It is often said that the style of clothing expresses respect for the interviewer.

The dress code is conservative. Men should wear a dark suit with a long-sleeved shirt and a discreet tie. Women should dress in a simple classic pant or skirt suit. Some large Slovak companies even have specific dress code rules.

For leisure and evening events with business partners, it is better to appear over- than underdressed.

Katrin Koll Prakoonwit

+49 (0)711 722 468 44
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