Meeting etiquette

Hungary flagBusiness meetings in Hungary

As in all European countries, in Hungary the business meetings are one of the important issues. People, even if they are not very friendly, they need to share experience, to discuss on strategies, opportunities and further development of they company, but also to talk with the business partners. After you meet your partner and discuss details of the business people are more confident about the further evolution of the contact.

Importance of business meetings

In Hungary, hierarchy is very significant for the business community and crucial decisions are reserved for management. Consequently, business meetings are generally considered necessary to exchange ideas and talk, but they are rarely perceived as opportunities to get things done. During a first meeting, Hungarians are formal and polite, although they prefer less formal meetings, without the rigidity of schedules or deadlines, where they can honestly express their opinion. Hungarian partners are not patient and want quick answers to their questions, though they are not good at doing the same when asked. It is best not to rely on verbal agreements. Promises made during the meetings are usually respected, but agreements are only binding when signed into a written contract.

Business meeting planning

When proposing a meeting, you should offer several alternative dates, out of respect for your partner’s schedule. State the topic you wish to address, why you want to meet, and the participants you desire to meet. If you want quick decisions, it will be necessary to ensure that decision-makers are invited to participate. Try to obtain a written confirmation of the place and time of the meeting with who is expected to attend, including name and function. In case you cannot participate, always call or write to cancel the meeting in advance. The best time for a business meeting is between 9 am and 1 pm – although a working lunch after 12:30 pm would be a good option. For a lunch, whoever is the host will be in charge of reserving the venue, the meeting room and the refreshments. Always agree with your partner on the language of the meeting. If an interpreter is needed, let your host know if you have one or ask if they have someone they can bring. Sometimes a colleague of your partner may be able to translate. If they do not know your business, take with you some supporting material.

Negotiation process

Business negotiations can be perceived from the perspective of relationships rather than the deals that can be made. During talks, Hungarians are more direct than polite. Most Hungarian businessmen seem to enjoy bargaining and wise negotiators make allowances for this bargaining nature until the discussions have come to a conclusion. The opening bid should be pragmatic, but at the same time should include enough room for manoeuvre. Hungarians are known to be well prepared and flexible in business negotiations, where the main goal in their strategy is to obtain a final agreement. They are ready to compromise only if they had already included this as one of the possible solutions.

Talks can last for different periods of time, depending on partners’ attitudes and on the nature of the sector. Negotiating with the public sector usually takes longer than with the private sector. Hungarians like to express vividly their satisfaction about how well they do things.

Meeting protocol

Greet your partner looking them in the eyes, shake hands firmly, state your name clearly and present your business card. Shake hands with all the participants. Pay attention when your partner pronounces their name. Once introduced, address your counterparts by their title and family name if you are not invited to do otherwise. If your hosts invite you to call them by their first name, this will be a sign that the relationship has reached a certain level of comfort, without necessarily meaning that you are negotiating on friendly terms. Business cards are usually exchanged at the beginning of a meeting. Hungarian business cards contain all the necessary business information and occasionally personal details (mainly for entrepreneurs). If you place your partners’ business cards in front of you when discussions begin, it may help you remember names and positions. Most Hungarian companies naturally use Hungarian as the language of their business card. International companies will usually have their business cards in two languages, Hungarian and English. When saying good-bye, shake hands again with all the participants.

How to run a business meeting

Hungarians usually begin their meetings with some small talk. Agendas are not necessarily adhered to and instead, spontaneity is often a driving force. Meetings can tend to run late, as Hungarians like telling jokes and debates are always taken seriously. To facilitate understanding, it is important to use clear and simple language and provide supporting documentation during meetings. If the meeting is conducted in English, Hungarians may say some things between themselves in Hungarian to make sure they all have a common understanding of the discussion. When presenting a project, do your research because you need to give good reasons and arguments. Hungarians are known to be inquisitive and if you want to convince Hungarian managers, you will need to prove your ability for reflective thinking. They will appreciate a broad knowledge of the context more than just a narrow field of specialization. Be prepared to answer many questions. Often, especially with a large delegation of attendees, decisions will not be made on the spot. Decisions are usually made when management has had the time to reflect and discuss. During meetings, coffee, tea, soft drinks and water will be offered; and sometimes a sandwich lunch may be provided.

Follow up letter after meeting with client

Written memos usually sum up the main points of any discussion, the decisions made and the actions to be taken. Either party may send out these meeting summaries several days after the meeting.

Once both sides have come to an agreement, it is important for the Hungarian partner to confirm the agreement in writing and shaking of hands. Hungarians are proud of their language skills, but they sometimes overestimate their abilities. So, it is important to ensure that all agreements and decisions are written and agreed to in both languages to avoid confusion and misinterpretation. Signing of a written agreement is a formal and necessary recognition of the end of negotiation.

Agreements should always include detailed descriptions of action items, deadlines, milestones and the name of the person who will be responsible for each piece. Regardless of the success of a business meeting, it is always a good idea to write to your hosts and thank them for their time and efforts following the meeting.

Business meals

To be invited to a business contact’s home is a rare event and an honour in Hungary, which happens when a business relationship turns into friendship. Otherwise, business meals and entertaining typically take place in restaurants. Business meetings take place in the office, bigger events in hotel meeting rooms. Breakfast meetings are not common and tend to only occur on a visitor’s request. Business lunches do happen, but an evening meal is preferred as the main way to relax and get to know each other. Breakfast is served between 8am and 9am, lunch between noon and 2pm, while the evening meal starts around 7 or 8 pm. Business lunches and dinners are usually fairly formal, so formal dress is recommended, especially on a first meeting. When a business dinner is more for entertaining and spending time getting to know one another, rather than discussing business, then more casual attire can be worn.

Hungarian people are famous for and proud of their hospitality. They may also propose non-business activities (e.g. sightseeing). Socializing outside business is seen as part of doing business and they may suggest activities like sightseeing to complement your visit.

Business meetings tips

You should know your subject matter intimately, but do not appear condescending or talk down to your Hungarian partners. Hungarians hate being underestimated, as they are proud and expect to be treated as equals. Ask for their opinion, give them time and they will produce numerous theoretical ideas. They may sound pessimistic or cynical now and then, but they are very creative and this is just their normal style of doing business. Once they begin to gain trust in a relationship, they will start showing their appreciation and will be motivated in finding ways towards a win-win solution.

In Hungary, the temperature may rise to over 30oC in summer and fall to less than -10oC in winter. Large hotels usually have air conditioning, but this is not always the case in restaurants or offices, so you should plan accordingly.

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