The safest practice when organising and attending meetings in another country is to ‘act local’. Then you can be confident that your meetings will be successful and your hosts will appreciate your cultural sensitivity.
There are a number of things you need to consider:
- What are the local attitudes to business meetings?
- How should you go about organising a meeting?
- How do you greet people at meetings?
- How should you run a meeting?
- What do you need to think about when conducting negotiations?
- What should you do after a meeting?
Importance of business meetings
In general, the first meeting with a Slovak company is characterized by a high level of formality and politeness. Any decisions will depend on who is attending the meeting from the Slovakia side. If the owner or general manager of the company is present at the first meeting, then you can expect a quick response to whether a business arrangement is of interest; but if the company‘s representative is a departmental head or a subordinate, then they will have to brief the owner before a decision can be made. Once a verbal agreement has been reached, Slovak companies prefer to have agreements written up under the direction of their lawyers. A lawyer’s involvement depends on the stage of cooperation, but verbal commitments are not regarded as legally binding, so it is important to have a general agreement drawn up in writing, even if it is not very detailed.
Business meeting planning
- It is advisable to offer options for the dates and time of the meeting and give an indication of what will be discussed, which will give the participants the opportunity to plan and prepare for the meeting.An agenda should be distributed prior to the meeting.
- Don‘t forget to produce copies of any documentation required for the meeting in the language of your business partner.
- The host is in charge of organising the meeting and creating the best conditions for the smooth running of the meeting, including arranging the meeting room, equipment and any refreshments that may be required.
- The host will select who is going to attend the meeting, according to the status and positions of representatives from the foreign partner. It is advisable to get a written confirmation of the meeting time with the name and position of whoever is going to attend. You should always call ahead, if you cannot attend the meeting for any reason.
- Depending on the language skills of the people that will be involved in the meeting, a professional interpreter should be made available for the meeting to help everyone understand each other.
- During the first meeting it is normal to start by introducing both companies, the initiating party then makes a presentation of the goals for the meeting, followed by discussion of the problem and summarising the results of the meeting, which both parties should agree upon.
The Slovak negotiating style is similar to the Czech style. When dealing with an older business partner, it is better to remain calm and take things slowly; spending time to explain clearly why working together will be beneficial to both parties. Being in a hurry and rushing through your negotiating presentation will only result in rejection, as they like to take their time before making a decision and do not like to be rushed into making a decision. They need to feel comfortable when negotiating, which means they prefer to talk to someone in their age group, as opposed to aggressive ‘young guns’ who think that they know everything. Even though they are not emotional in business, Slovaks still try to create a friendly atmosphere by cracking jokes and trying to be humorous.
The younger generation are more westernized. Most of them studied their postgraduate qualification in either Western Europe or America, so their negotiating skills tend to be more British or American than Slovak.
Where the older generation might start a first meeting with a discussion about tourist sites in Bratislava; a younger person will likely jump straight into the business discussion, with the aim of being as efficient as possible.
Once both sides have reached an agreement, the Slovak side will want a written confirmation with all the terms and conditions described in full. This is the way business is done and not due to any lack of trust.
The basic way of greeting people is by shaking the right hand and saying “dobre den” (good morning/afternoon), “dobrý večer” (good evening) or welcoming phrases “vítáj vás”(welcome) or “těší mne, že vás mohu přivítat v naší společnosti” (I am pleased to welcome you to our company). Without regard to gender, the host will always offer their hand first.
When shaking hands, you should have a firm handshake because a weak handshake can be taken to mean that you are weak or unsure of yourself. Conversely, a handshake that is too strong might be an indication that you will be inflexible and not open to proposals that might be put forward in the meeting. It is always good to maintain eye contact as a demonstration of openness and sincerity. You should avoid over friendly gestures like slapping on the back, hugging, kissing on the cheek or hands in any business situation. The kissing of a woman’s hand is also no longer acceptable in a business setting.
The use of business cards is a common practice across all sectors of the economy. Although they are never exchanged during the greeting, they should be given at the beginning of the meeting, so that everybody knows with whom they are talking, what position they hold and for which company.
Business cards are used as a means of introduction and to provide basic contact information. The exchange of business cards also enables you to identify a potential business partner and helps you to know how to address the person. The function of the business card is becoming more important in the Slovak business community and more thought and effort is now being put into their design. Even though the design of business cards should be simple and informative, some SMEs use it as a form of advertising.
For most Slovak companies, the language used on their business cards is Slovak.
Companies with international partnerships may have business cards with more than one language i.e. Slovak and English. It is important to explain the position of the person to the foreign business partner, because of the potential for difficulties with the correct pronunciation of names and accurate translation of job titles. If written in Slovak, a job title might sound similar to an equivalent position in another language, but the words could mean something totally different.
How to run a business meeting
If the Slovak side is hosting the meeting, then they have to prepare the agenda and run the meeting. The senior representative from the Slovak company will present the agenda at the beginning of the meeting and begin the discussion. During the meeting, some refreshments will normally be offered, such as coffee, tea, water and biscuits. If the meeting runs longer than expected, some food may be offered.
The host has to prepare the minutes of the meeting, including summarising the main points of the meeting, conclusions drawn from the discussion and a schedule of further steps to be taken. The meeting minutes are distributed within the week for review and approval and, if no modifications are requested, a confirmation of the agreement will be issued.
Follow up letter after meeting with client
If it has been agreed to continue with the partnership, then the timetable plays a very important role in defining the activities of both business partners. After the tasks are formulated, deadlines are fixed and dates and places of future meetings are decided upon.
In the case of one or both of the partners not seeing any future in their cooperation, each party has the right to terminate negotiations and a full explanation for that decision will then be expected.
Sharing a meal is generally one of the more enjoyable aspects of doing business in another country. We have included it as a separate section because formal meals can represent an opportunity to develop social relationship, which, as we all know, can be essential for strengthening any long-term business partnership. But this aspect presents a whole series of questions. Who pays for the meal? Should you offer to pay? When and what to eat? Could you refuse a specific dish? Can you discuss business at the table during the meal or when is it most appropriate?
- Attitudes to Business Meals
Most Slovak business people would never host a business dinner in their own home. Inviting a business partner for dinner at home happens only after their relationship has become more personal. Therefore, most Slovaks will invite their business partners to dine at a local restaurant. There are no written rules on how to begin a conversation or when it is appropriate to talk about business. Mostly, it depends on the host and the business discussion will begin after the meal has been ordered, depending on how much time both parties have.
- Restaurant Etiquette
The host will always choose the restaurant, make the reservation and pay for the meal, including the tip. An invitation to lunch will usually offered during the first meeting, whereas a meeting to finalize the details of a business agreement is usually held in the more formal surrounding of the company’s office.
If the invitees will be meeting at the restaurant rather than travelling together, it is recommended to arrive on time. There are no strict rules on where to sit; although if there are only two people, then you will probably sit opposite each other.
The dress code for lunch and dinner would be formal business attire, such as a dark coloured suit for men and something equally professional for women. If you are not sure what to wear, it is best to ask the host for advice.
- Food and Drink
In Slovak culture you are not obliged to accept everything you are offered, and truthfully, it is probably better to refuse some things, than to be forced to eat or drink it. The typical national dish is ‘bryndzové halušky’, which is a mixture of potato dumplings ‘halusky’ with ‘bryndza’, a soft crumbly cheese traditionally made by shepherds out of sheep milk. A typical meal will consist of three courses: a cold appetiser or soup, main dish and a dessert; and it really does not make any difference if you finish your food or leave something on the plate.
The Slovaks have a beer drinking culture, so they will probably offer beer to their guest. However, guests should feel free to order whatever they prefer to drink. In case of an official business lunch or dinner, or if the occasion calls for it, the host may raise a toast for success with a locally produced alcohol called ‘Slivovice’.
- Other Issues (Including Restaurant vs Home)
Smoking during a business meeting is not uncommon and most places in the Slovak republic still allow smoking, even in restaurants during the lunch service. It is common courtesy to ask whether anyone minds, before you smoke and it is best to follow the lead of your host and their preferences.
Business meeting tips
- Do not underestimate a Slovak partner, give them enough space during the meeting, listen to their ideas and recommendations and you may be surprised with different ideas and new way of looking at things.
- Come prepared and be confident, but not arrogant, because Slovak managers are very sensitive to this.
- Do not look down on your Slovak partners, if you want to gain their trust and overcome any perceived distance between you.
- You should present your opinions, but not force them on others as as this was an approach that many Slovak managers experienced during the economic transformation, and will likely alienate them as potential partners.
- Both partners should come to the meeting table as equals and treat each other with respect and openness; active participation of both sides in the discussion will be taken as a sign of their interest.
- If you have the feeling during the meeting that your partner is pessimistic or not active in the discussion due to a lack of understanding or self-confidence, then you should simplify the presentation of your strategy, putting more emphasis on the aims and expected results.
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