As an industrial powerhouse of Central Europe, Poland attracts the attention of businesses and investors worldwide. The economic forecast for Poland for 2021 and 2022 reflects steady growth according to the May 2021 European Economic Forecast. Poland’s economy is projected to grow by 4.0% in 2021 and 5.4% in 2022, with their GDP expected to reach the pre-pandemic levels in Q3 of 2021. For those planning to collaborate virtually or face-to-face in Krakow or Warsaw, consider these eight business culture tips to help you navigate the nuances as this fascinating country continues its projected growth trajectory:
- Language Proficiency: The well-educated, highly skilled Polish workforce is also technically proficient. While Polish is their official national language, most Poles are multilingual due to Poland’s proximity to numerous other nations. Czech, English, German, and Russian are also spoken.
- Rules and Relationships: The Poles tend to follow guidelines, rules, and protocols. However, relationships are crucial for introductions and to keep the workplace running smoothly.
- 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. When travel is possible, conduct first meetings face-to-face to assist with communication and reduce ambiguity.
- 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 the 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. Schedule virtual or face-to-face meetings accordingly.
- Plan and Confirm: It is important to plan and confirm virtual and face-to-face appointments both in advance 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. If possible, avoid summer meetings in June, July, and August when many Poles are on vacation or holiday.
- Names and Titles: When contacting or addressing a Polish counterpart in written or verbal communication, use their title and last name until advised 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.
- 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. Therefore, to the extent you are comfortable, match this direct communication style by expressing your views kindly and yet clearly and candidly.
- 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 without company branding, flowers, or a home country souvenir like pre-packaged sweets, fine chocolates, quality liquor, flowers, or wine. Avoid yellow chrysanthemums, lilies, and carnations as these are associated with funerals.
Poland’s internationalized economy will continue its projected economic growth. So, if your next virtual meeting or 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 diversity and inclusion consultant, cross-cultural trainer, etiquette expert, and the founder of Access to Culture. In addition to her accreditation in intercultural management from the HOFSTEDE Centre, she is an attorney and mediator. Her Amazon #1 Best Selling book in International Business, Access to Asia, won a coveted Kirkus Star, and was named to Kirkus Reviews’ Best Books. She is a winner of numerous awards, including the British Airways International Trade Award at the Greater Austin Business Awards.
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