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 […]
Meetings are very popular in Poland, because they offer a chance for personal contact. However, the objectives of the meeting are often achieved only shortly before closing, under time pressure, because there is no strict structure. Instead, you jump from topic to topic and not all decisions are recorded in writing. Many internal meetings will also take place on an ad hoc basis, with the complete absence of an agenda. Postponements are normal, even at short notice.
Starting off with small talk
At the beginning of a Polish company meeting there will always be some small talk. Going straight to the point is a faux pas and shows disrespect. You will be asked how your trip was, if everything is fine with the accommodation, if you like the city, where you have just come from, and whether you have visited Poland before. All these questions are aimed at getting to know you a little better as a person. Take advantage of such a propitious moment and praise everything positive you have noticed. Your Polish business partners know only too well that you have in fact been stuck in traffic during rush hour or that the infrastructure leaves much to be desired. Your attempt to say a few words in Polish would also be highly valued. Accept the fact that your Polish partners will answer phone calls, send SMS or even short emails during the meeting.
The art of multi-tasking
In Poland there is a heavy emphasis on multitasking. Many Poles have only one mobile number and thus they are always available on their mobile not only for business, but also privately. As personal and professional lives mix together, Polish colleagues understand such interruptions. In formal meetings, it is also surprising that participants are not always present throughout. It is common behaviour to occasionally leave the room to deal briefly with another matter. It is also common, especially when discussing critical topics, to prefer private conversation, rather than discuss the matter during the meeting. The critical issue might jeopardize the positive atmosphere.
Follow-up after a meeting is particularly important. It is expected that you will regularly ask about the state of things in not only a formal manner, but in way that you show interest in the implementation of decisions in a more informal context too. This way, you demonstrate to your business partners that you attach great value to the results.
Agenda and minutes
In most Polish company meetings there is little linear attendance to the agenda. This does not necessarily mean that not all the points are discussed. Instead, the order of items is changed frequently, and you will find yourself jumping back and forth between individual threads. The agenda is part of the official information channel and its importance must not be overestimated. Informal exchange is just as important as official meetings and related documents in Poland and it is crucial to be able to discern the relevant information. A multitude of mosaic pieces fit together to give you a better picture of the situation.
It is the same with the minutes. Even when they are actually written during the meeting, they will not be given as much attention as it would be the case in other countries. “Paper is patient”, but oral communication is binding, because it requires trust and a good relationship. Just as you do, your Polish partners pursue very specific goals in meetings, but they will enter into businesses and projects only if there is an interpersonal relationship and the business relationship is working well. For this reason it is advisable not to insist on long minutes, but rather to produce memos. You can also expect these from your partner: short and to the point. If you send your notes via e-mail, they should be accompanied by a polite letter.
In Polish presentations facts and figures are firmly in the foreground, while anecdotes and icebreakers, as is customary in the English-speaking world, especially the US, tend to be received rather negatively in Poland. In order to maintain a good atmosphere, remember the golden rule discussed above: HOW something is said is far more important than WHAT is being communicated. The content of the presentation should therefore be consistent not only on the factual level, but also on the relationship level.
A successful start to your presentation, which should also win you a little credit, might include, for example, welcoming your audience in Polish or managing to correctly pronounce the names and titles of your partners. Hierarchies play a significant role in Poland. It is important to know who exactly in the group has decision-making authority and who is in charge of organizational matters. Consider this information when greeting your audience.
Since the spoken word prevails over the written, always avoid overloading your presentation slides with too much information. At the same time though, be aware that in Poland presentations generally make use of more visual material. Allow questions during your presentation, which will also help you get a feel for what issues should be discussed in more detail. Remember though, it may only be after the presentation, in an informal context,that you will be asked about different aspects of your presentation. Allow enough time for this.