Over the past few years, more and more business travelers have been heading to formerly off-limits countries like Czechoslovakia and Poland. While business opportunities in these locations may be exciting, it's important to understand potential cultural differences.
To help business travelers avoid cultural problems when traveling to Poland, I took the time to interview Gayle Cotton, author of the book Say Anything to Anyone, Anywhere: 5 Keys To Successful Cross-Cultural Communication.
Ms. Cotton (www.GayleCotton.com) is the author of the bestselling book, Say Anything to Anyone, Anywhere: 5 Keys To Successful Cross-Cultural Communication. Ms. Cotton is a distinguished speaker and an recognized authority on cross-cultural communication. She's also President of Circles Of Excellence Inc., and has been featured on many television programs, including: NBC News, BBC News, PBS, Good Morning America, PM Magazine, PM Northwest, and Pacific Report.
What tips do you have for business travelers heading to Poland?
- In the Polish culture the standard greeting is a firm handshake. The same applies to farewells. Kissing and hugging are reserved for very good friends.
- When doing business in Poland, learn some basic Polish words, like hello “dzien dobry”, good bye “do widzenia”, excuse me “przepraszam”, and thank you “dziekuje”. A basic Polish language guide can help you with proper pronunciation
- Smile and be moderately expressive as you speak. Be sincere, genuine, and avoid sounding egocentric or bragging about your rank or status.
- There is no general rule as to how Polish people address each other. In initial contacts they may use the person's title or surname however, after two or three meetings the use of first names is welcomed.
- Polish business people love to conduct discussions on a wide range of topics including public life, family and career. To generate conversation, ask open-ended questions starting with who, what, where, when, why, and how.
- The more you converse with someone Polish, the more gesture oriented they may become. Typical business standoffishness may eventually transform into a friendly conversation with backslapping!
- Be punctual. If you cannot be on time, be sure to inform everyone about the circumstances which have delayed you, otherwise you may appear unreliable.
- A toast is usually performed before or after eating. If you propose a toast it is important to maintain eye contact. Do not begin drinking until your host has proposed a toast. If your host stands when proposing a toast, so should you. In Poland the common toast is 'na zdrowie!'
- It is important to show special consideration to the elderly. For example, when public transportation becomes crowded, younger people are expected to give up their seats to the elderly.
Any business-specific cultural tips?
- When entering a meeting room, wait for your host to indicate where you are going to sit. If there are people you do not know, wait for your host to carry out the introductions.
- If you are in a group, avoid conducting private conversations. It is better to involve everyone in the discussion.
- Be thoroughly prepared for any meeting or negotiation, and make sure you have the authority to make concessions from your side.
- In addition to Polish, English or German are the languages of most business transactions.
- When going for a coffee or dining, don’t bring up business unless they do first.
- According to Polish business etiquette, gifts are given at the beginning of a relationship, especially when contacts are made for the first time, and at the end of a successful business venture.
- The best gifts are always items which are typical of your culture. If you are from Switzerland, you could buy some carefully chosen chocolate. Another good gift is a book describing your country or the region you are from which adds a personal touch.
- If you want to get to know your business partners better, invite them for a cup of coffee, lunch, or dinner.
5 Key Conversation Tips
- They enjoy talking about travel and experiences in other countries.
- Discuss your education and work experience
- Humorous anecdotes and stories are always appreciated
- Hobbies and things of personal interest are good topics
- There is a love of art, music, and culture
5 Key Conversation Taboos
- Avoid politics in general, unless they bring it up first
- Don’t Emphasize or boast about money and wealth
- Avoid speaking with your hands in your pockets
- Avoid discussing religion, unless they bring it up first
- Don’t sit with one ankle resting on the other knee
What is important to know about the decision-making or negotiation process?
- Be patient. In Poland, the decision making process is slower than in North America. Be prepared to have several meetings before finalizing a business deal.
- Polish negotiations tend to be reserved. Periods of silence during negotiations are not unusual. Do not try to fill the silence with unnecessary talk. The essential information is what counts.
- The Polish will usually negotiate with a group of individuals rather than just one. If you gain their trust, it will typically be followed up by a contract.
Any tips for women?
- Women are widely involved in business in Poland
Any tips on gestures?
- It’s important to maintain direct eye contact during a conversation
- Polish people are sensitive to body language and watch it carefully, so be moderate in your gestures.
- Avoid overly demonstrative or closed off body language