Poland is a modern and fast-growing country. The number of foreign companies has been growing steadily over the last years. This shows that foreign businesses successfully overcome administrative and bureaucratic difficulties. They perceive Poland as a place where they can grow despite the language barrier. There’s nothing that enhances chances for success more than effective business communication.
Polish people love to communicate. They are quite vocal about their political views, work and sports. When it comes to business relations, things get trickier. On one hand, you should be cool and professional, on the other hand being cordial and authentic is also important. In addition, just as in any other culture, you should remember to adjust all communication to Polish context.
Below, I summarised the most important aspects to remember when it comes to communicating with Poles.
Effective business communication – Do’s
- Start with “small talk“. This is an opportunity to get to know each other better, gather information about the interlocutor and start building a relationship.
- As an ice-breaker, and to create a good impression, try learning a few words and phrases in Polish.
- Listen carefully and make eye contact. It translates honesty and trustworthiness. Avoiding eye contact can seem suspicious and disrespectful.
- Remain generally formal and moderately quiet. Polish entrepreneurs are likely to be more reserved at the first meeting. They usually say what they think and get straight to the point.
- Discuss important issues in person and during frequent visits and phone calls. Follow each contact with a written summary to prevent misunderstandings.
- Address your counterparts by their professional or academic title plus family name, or address men as “Pan” (Mr) and women as “Pani” (Mrs) plus the family name. Note that “Panna” (Miss) is seldom used; unless speaking to a child.
- Stand at about an arm’s length of personal space for comfort.
- Presentations should be clear, accurate and detailed and you should back your information with facts and technical details.
- During business meetings, wear formal clothing. Men wear dark coloured suits with a jacket and tie, and women wear suits with either trousers or a skirt.
Effective business communication – Dont’s
- Pleasantries, such as “how are you?”, are unnecessary because Poles tend to take this type of questions literally.
- Don’t try to show off your knowledge. Poles don’t like people boasting about their credentials or successes. It’s perceived as unprofessional.
- Put politics and ethical issues aside. Discussing politics, religion and ideological issues is not the best idea for breaking the ice.
- Avoid appearing as though you are only concerned about the outcome of the deal. Poles will be looking for an honest commitment to the process and the quality of relations.
- Don’t rehearse your conversation. Although it may seem like a good idea to prepare your statements earlier for reciting according to a pre-planned scenario, it may sound artificial and unauthentic.
- Don’t touch someone further than a handshake if you are not well acquainted. Poles are relatively tactile but only with those they know.
- Don’t be too animated. Poles expect a level of formality and seriousness when running a business. Once the relationship becomes more personal, people open up and tend to be easy going.
- Don’t expect to always receive confirmation of received letters or e-mails. Many Polish managers are not good at keeping in touch or responding to telephone calls.
- Avoid offering ultimatums or raising your voice during negotiations. Instead prepare for friendly but pointed negotiations.
Guidelines for effective business communication with Poles
- Be on time for appointments
- Try to make initial introductions through a local representative rather than on your own
- Maintain polite formality at initial meetings; interactions become more cordial over time
- Poles are good listeners and they usually speak frankly. They are quick to get straight to the purpose of the meeting
- The correspondence, contracts and documents should be translated into Polish to avoid any misunderstanding
- If any language difficulties are anticipated, you should arrange for an interpreter to be present at the meeting
- Rather than sending unsolicited letters in English, address the correspondence to the person in the company who speaks English. Otherwise you risk the letters will not be answered
It’s obvious that you will find a common language with Poles. The key is to understand possible cultural differences and have any strategic documents prepared in Polish. Alternatively, it will be helpful to draft documents in plain English to avoid any misunderstandings. Many managers and top executives know English, at least at the conversational level. They will make an effort to speak English to make you feel welcome.
Feel free to contact me to prepare for the meeting with Polish business or to translate documents and correspondence.