Communication is important for Slovenian business men, but this doesn’t make them very friendly from the beginning. Direct communication is appreciated to start a business relationship as an opportunity to know the partner and to get trust. Their communication style is closer to German and Nordics.
Slovenians prefer face-to-face communication with a potential business partner, which gives them the opportunity to meet someone in person to look them in the eyes and gain a measure of their trustworthiness. Non-verbal communications are vital in this part of the world; not making direct eye contact will be considered a sign of disinterest and that you may be trying to hide something.
Overall, attitudes to business and professionalism in Slovenia are very similar to those of Germany and Austria.
During the first meeting, business partners will closely adhere to the formal rules of protocol and procedures, but as a relationship develops, meetings will gradually become more informal.
Slovene belongs to the family of South Slavic languages and Slovenians generally speak more than one language. The most popular foreign languages in Slovenia are primarily English, followed by Italian and German, which tend to be spoken most often near the Italian and Austrian borders, respectively.
Learning a few basic words in the local language is always a good idea and the ability to say something like ‘hello’ or ‘good morning’ in Slovene would be a pleasant surprise to your host.
As Slovenian society is rather formal in its approach to business, it is advisable to adopt a more formal style and wait for the relationship to develop into a friendship before allowing too much familiarity in the conversation.
The Slovenian language differentiates between the singular, familiar ‘you’ and the plural, polite ‘you’ form of addressing people. It is important to note that being on first name terms does not automatically mean that the relationship has developed to the point of a friendship. So, you should always use the polite form of address, until invited by your business partner to address them on more familiar terms.
It is always appreciated when a foreigner makes the effort to learn a few basic Slovenian words. Some useful words and phrases in Slovenian are:
- Yes!: Ja! [ya]
- No!: Ne! [ne]
- Please!: Prosim! [prohsim]
- Excuse me!: Oprostite! [oprohsteeteh]
- Thank you!: Hvala! [hvaala]
- Good morning!: Dobro jutro! [dobro yootro]
- Good afternoon!: Dober dan! [dohber daan]
- Goodnight!: Lahko noc! [ laahko nohch]
- Goodbye!: Na svidenje! [na sveedenye]
- What is your name?: Kako vam je ime? [kakoh vam yeh imeh]
- My name is…: Ime mi je… [imeh mi yeh]
- How are you?: Kako ste? [kakoh ste]
- Fine, thanks, and you?: Dobro, hvala. Pa vi? [dobro hvaala. pa vi]
- I understand!: Razumem! [razoomem]
- I don’t understand!: Ne razumem! [ne razoomem]
- Do you speak English?: Govorite anglesko? [Govoreete anglehshko]
- I speak a little English!: Govirim malo anglescine [govoreem maalo anglehshcheeneh]
- Maybe!: Mogoce [mogotche]
- Zero: nicx; one: ena; two: dva; three: tri; four: sxtiri; five: pet; six: sxest; seven: sedem; eight: osem; nine: devet; ten: deset.
- Monday: ponedeljek; Tuesday: torek; Wednesday: sreda; Thursday: četertek; Friday: petek; Saturday: sobota; Sunday: nedelja.
Business relationships in Slovenia, just as in many other countries worldwide, are dependent on developing personal contacts and spending time on building trust and getting to know one another.
First contact with a potential partner in Slovenia is normally by fax or email, and should be followed up with a letter. If they are interested in forming a business relationship, they will usually reply within a short period of time. Once a relationship has been established, it is easy to get to a verbal agreement, which should then be drawn up and confirmed in writing. Written agreements are important to ensure that all parties have a clear understanding of what has been agreed, what is expected of them and clarify any specific terms and conditions that may apply. Also, by circulating the agreement in written form, participants are given the opportunity to correct any misinterpretations and address any areas of concern.
It is advised that foreign business partners should make their first contact in written form, by letter, email or fax. Communications should be addressed directly to a specific person who is able to make a quick decision, such as the Managing Director. If the person you are in contact with speaks English, then the best and fastest way of communicating is to make direct contact by telephone.
It is also useful to meet with representatives of Slovenian companies through attending relevant business fairs, seminars, and conferences in Slovenia and abroad.
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In the Slovenian business community, people tend to use titles with surnames, when addressing each other. In conversation, titles are used according to the person’s education or position in the company. After graduating from university, a person may use the title of ‘Diplomiran’ or ‘Master’, depending on the level of studies they have completed. On completion of a doctorate, a person would normally use the title of ‘Doctor’, or ‘Professor’ if they are using their qualification to teach in an academic institution. Therefore, a person may be addressed as ‘Doctor Golob’ or “Professor Znanosti”, irrespective of gender.
The use of academic titles in the business environment, such as professor (Prof.) or doctor of science (Doktor Kocjan – PhD), increase the level of respect that individual is accorded, especially among the older generation. When addressing someone, the academic titles mentioned on the business card prevail over business titles. Where a person does not specify academic titles on their business card, it may be appropriate to address them by their position in the company, for example ‘Mr. Director’.