Business communications in Poland
Communication is perhaps the most important aspect of doing business, yet we tend to take it for granted when doing business in our own country because we are dealing with people from our own culture.
The following section is divided into three areas: communication, working practice, and eating out. It explains the differences between face-to-face communication, and dealing with people via the telephone or by letter/fax etc. How important is it to address people by their correct title? How should you introduce yourself? Should you always give your business cards immediately after introduction? How important is it to get things agreed in writing?
We think that this covers most business situations. By reading this section, you should be sufficiently well equipped with the basic ‘ground rules’ for doing business in Poland.
Polish business people are generally formal and moderately quiet. So, their communication behaviour is likely to be more reserved at the first meeting.
Important business issues must be discussed in person and frequent visits and phone calls are essential to establish the business relationship and basis for a written agreement.
Poles maintain direct eye contact and require about an arm’s length of personal space for comfort. They usually say what they think and get straight to the point. They don’t really make jokes during the first meeting; jokes are left for more social occasions. Poles do not generally speak in a loud voice but they are, nevertheless, self-confident and decisive.
Poles are well educated highly skilled and technically very competent. They have a tendency to follow rules and adhere to expected protocols. Polish is the official language, but most Poles speak more than one language because of its proximity to many other countries. Russian, German and English are the most prominent foreign languages spoken with business often conducted in English where participants’ first language is not Polish.
Most Poles speak English and even though they might not speak it fluently, they are able to communicate. Many employers feel that the more languages an applicant speaks, the better; so, it is essential to have knowledge of at least one foreign language when applying for a job.
As an ice-breaker, to create a good impression on your host, it is worthwhile learning at least a few words and phrases in Polish.
Most Polish SMEs welcome every opportunity to do business with foreign partners. For the majority of businesses, a written agreement has priority over a verbal agreement and, therefore, written agreements are always recommended.
Foreign companies interested in investing in Poland can obtain relevant information from local Business associations. For example,
- http://www.bpcc.org.pl (The British-Polish Chamber of Commerce) (Polish0, English)
- http://www.opolsku.cz (Czech-Polish Chamber of Commerce) (Polish, Czech)
are good places to start.
When approaching a Polish company for the first time, it is advisable to use written communications to prevent misunderstandings and avoid difficulties that can be present in other modes of communication. On receipt of a reply, it will be possible to gauge whether there is a manager that speaks English and what may be the best means of requesting a face-to-face meeting.
International fairs are also very useful in order to find and establish initial contacts. The most famous ones are:
- Poznan International Fair (http://www.mtp.pl/en),
- Gdansk International Fair (http://www.mtgsa.com.pl),
- International Katowice Fair (http://www.mtk.katowice.pl)
- Szczecin International Fair (http://www.mts.pl)
all in Polish, English, Deutsch and Russian languages.
There is still a strong tendency to use individual titles in Polish society. Until invited to do otherwise, men should be addressed as Pan (Mr) and women as “Pani” (Mrs). Panna (Miss) is seldom used; unless speaking to a child, all women should be referred to as Pani. It is important to know that in some cases the ending of a surname will change depending on gender. Married women take their husband’s last names, but when the last letter is a vowel, change ‘y’ or ‘i’ to an ‘a’ For example, Pan Bruszynski’s wife is referred to as Pani Bruszynska.
When addressing a manager or high-level executive, you should not drop the Mr or Mrs in favour of using their job title as this is considered impolite. For example Pan Director is an appropriate way to address the Director of the company. Never address someone by their surname only, as this is not appropriate and would be considered extremely impolite and disrespectful.
The use of academic titles like Magister (master’s degree), Dr. (Phd), or Professor is not common in the workplace, except in academia or the healthcare industry.
A sign that a business relationship has developed to a much more personal level is if you are invited to take part in “Bruderschaft”. This translates as something like a ‘brotherly toast’, where two people simultaneously raise a toast and interlock arms to down their drinks. This is followed by an exchange of kisses and invitation to use first names. Younger business professionals may be keener to progress a relationship more quickly and adopt a less formal style.