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Business Culture in Poland

One of the keys to being successful in a foreign country is knowing and understanding cultural differences. Only by recognising and respecting these differences we can avoid unnecessary misunderstandings and forge effective business relationships. This article describes the basics of business culture in Poland.

The beginning of cooperation

Want to meet a Polish business partner? Great, let’s arrange a meeting! Whether the meeting is live or virtual, it is a good idea to confirm it a day before the appointment. Working hours in Poland usually range from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Since many Polish companies eschew formal lunch breaks ,it is a good idea to arrange meetings in the morning between 10 a.m. and 12 noon or in the afternoon between 2 p.m. and 4 p.m. If possible, avoid arranging meetings in the summer months of June, July and August, as many Poles are on vacation then.

It is best to be introduced to the other party through an intermediary respected by both parties, Poles prefer to do business with someone they know. If possible, the first meeting should be face to face, which will facilitate communication and build greater trust. When addressing a Polish partner of similar status, use his or her title and last name until instructed to address them differently. It is best to address superiors by their title alone, and in formal situations add Mr./Ms. before the title.

You should come to a business meeting dressed formally. For formal occasions, Poles usually wear dark suits with a jacket and tie, while women wear an outfit with pants or a skirt. Large companies in Poland often specify a dress code for their employees. For smaller companies, there is usually no clearly defined dress policy, but employees are expected to dress appropriately for their positions.

When greeting, meeting participants exchange a firm handshake and look each other straight in the eyes. If there are more people at the talks, greet each of them individually. Sometimes Polish men kiss a woman’s hand when greeting her, as a sign of respect. However, this gesture is becoming less common.

Business cards

It is best to have your business cards printed in English. They will be passed from hand to hand. After receiving one, it is a good idea to take a moment to familiarise yourself with its contents. You should hand the business card in a way that makes it the easiest to read , which is with the print face up. Once you have familiarised yourself with the contents of the business card, hide it in a business card holder. Do not crumple the business cards you receive or tuck them into your pants pocket, as they represent your partner.

Meeting

You should arrive to a meeting on time, although a maximum of 15 minutes late is allowed. As a rule, Poles are punctual. However, people in senior positions can sometimes arrive slightly late to a meeting, wishing to emphasise their status and importance in the company.

The first meeting is often a get-to-know-you meeting, where partners check whether you are trustworthy. Sometimes conversations take place with lower-ranking people rather than decision-makers. Before the actual business conversation, there is often a short chat on non-business topics. A similar situation occurs at the end of the meeting. Controversial topics such as abortion, religion or politics should be avoided during the conversation.

Although the official language in Poland is Polish, most Poles speak foreign languages well, especially English. You can also meet many people who speak fluent German, Czech or Russian. Try to learn some basic Polish words and phrases,  astheir use during the conversation will be appreciated.

It is worth remembering that Poles are quite direct during business conversations. They express their opinions quite openly, believing that it is more beneficial for both sides to speak directly than to use veiled expressions. So it’s worth adapting to this style of communication and expressing your thoughts openly but politely. Avoid unnecessary boasting and arrogant behavior. During the conversation, listen carefully, do not interrupt the speaker and maintain direct eye contact with your partners.

Let’s not be surprised if conversations start with negative remarks, instead of highlighting what went well. Quite often, when asked to express their opinion, Poles like to talk about things that have failed or should be improved. Successes are seldom discussed , following the principle that if something is working properly, there is no point in mentioning it. It is only worth talking about what is not right in order to fix it.

It is good to keep in mind that business in Poland requires patience. Negotiations are conducted slowly and not always according to a set agenda. Generally speaking, in Poland a written contract takes precedence over an oral one. Poles expect every business agreement to be written down and signed – until then, the contract is not considered finalised and binding.

For Poles, honesty is extremely important. If Polish partners begin to have suspicions that you are not reliable, they may withdraw from doing business. Let’s not be surprised if, during a fierce exchange of words, Poles begin to express themselves in an aggressive manner. To some extent, aggression is acceptable if individuals are excessively or groundlessly criticized.

Gifts

Giving gifts is part of Polish business culture. The exchange of symbolic gifts takes place during the first meeting and after the completion of any arrangements, such as the signing of a contract. Good gift ideas are company gadgets or something characteristic of your country. Other desirable gifts include chocolates, perfumes, cigars, alcohol (usually wine or liquor) and flowers. As for flowers, avoid yellow chrysanthemums, lilies and carnations, as they are associated with funerals.

If your Polish partner invites you to his or her home, it is best to bring flowers, candy, or a bottle of wine as a gift.

Meals

If you receive an invitation to a restaurant from a Polish partner, you should not turn it down. This means that he or she wants to build a relationship with you and cares about your business. During a formal meal, the most important guests are usually seated on the right side of the host. Do not sit down until the host does so. Manners should be observed while eating, and they are no different from other European countries. It is quite common to drink alcohol, make toasts and make speeches during a gathering. Do not have a drink until the host offers a toast, this is considered rude.

The bill is usually covered by the host, but it is worth offering to pay,  and such a gesturewill be well received.

Hierarchy

Polish companies are quite hierarchical, Poles respect authority figures and those higher in position, and this is reflected in the business world. There is a certain distance between those in positions of authority and their subordinates. When talking to a superior, Poles behave more formally than when talking to a person equal in position. The place in the company’s hierarchy is influenced by factors such as age, education level and experience. Employees are expected to follow guidelines given by superiors, and independent initiative is not much appreciated. Decisions are made by the company’s management, and business negotiations are expected to be carried out with people of sufficiently important positions.

Relationships

For Poles, building personal relationships in business is important. Maintaining connections is key to creating trust between both parties. However, it is worth remembering that in Poland, relationships at work are characterized by a certain degree of formalism. It is therefore worth avoiding being too open at the beginning keeping a certain distance. It is wise to keep in mind that Poles often take advantage of close relationships to do certain favors in or out of the workplace. If we bond closely with our Polish partner, don’t be surprised when he or she asks us for a favor.

Poles do not always have clear boundaries regarding work and personal life. For this reason, it can happen that they make business calls, or send emails after working hours, even late at night. This is worth bearing in mind.

Official holidays in Poland

January 1
New Year’s Day
January 6
Epiphany
Sunday in Spring (movable)
Easter Sunday
May 1
Labour Day
May 3
Constitution Day
7th Sunday after Easter
Pentecost Sunday
9th Thursday after Easter
Corpus Christi
August 15
Assumption of the Blessed Virgin May
November 1
All Saint’s Day
November 11
Independence Day
December 25
Christmas Day
December 26

Mini glossary of useful phrases

  • Good Morning –> Dzień dobry
  • Hi –> Cześć
  • Goodbye –> Do widzenia
  • Thank you –> Dziękuję
  • I’m sorry –> Przepraszam
  • Excuse me –> Przepraszam
  • Please –> Proszę
  • Cheers –> Na zdrowie
  • Yes –> Tak
  • No –> Nie
  • It’s nice to meet you –> Miło cię poznać
  • Company –> Firma
  • Export –> Eksport
  • Import –> Import
  • Poland –> Polska
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