Doing business in Poland

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Poland is located in Central Europe and it covers 120,700 square miles. On the north, Poland is bordered by the Baltic Sea, Russia, and Lithuania; on the east by Belarus and Ukraine; on the south by Slovakia and the Czech Republic; and on the west by Germany. Originally, the capital was Cracow (Kraków), but in 1611 it was moved to Warsaw (Warszawa), the current seat of government.

Positioned at the centre of Europe, it has known turbulent and violent times. There have been periods of independence as well as periods of domination by other countries. A new era began when Poland became an EU member in May 2004, five years after joining NATO and 15 years after the end of communist rule. There has been marked success in creating a market economy and attracting foreign investment.

The country is home to a welcoming and warm-hearted population, characterised by their strong sense of community and resilience. Poles are proud of their history, which is marked by periods of adversity, perseverance, and triumph, and this is reflected in their national character.

Polish culture and religion are connected. Poland is a predominantly Catholic country, with around 90% of Polish people identifying as Roman Catholics.

Respect for tradition and family plays a central role in Polish culture. The concept of "rodzina" (family) is paramount, and celebrations and gatherings often revolve around family bonds. Additionally, Poles hold a deep appreciation for their language, art, and history, with national heroes like Copernicus, Chopin, and Pope John Paul II being revered figures.

When meeting someone for the first time in Poland, a firm handshake is the most common form of greeting. Maintain eye contact and offer a warm smile. Addressing people by their titles (e.g., "Pan" for Mr. and "Pani" for Mrs. or Ms.) followed by their last name is considered polite and respectful.

Polish names are typically their given name followed by the family name. It is common for people to have both a given name and a diminutive version, which is used in close relationships. For example, Jan becomes Janko, and Anna becomes Ania among friends and family.

In Poland, building strong, trust-based relationships is fundamental. Poles tend to be reserved initially, but once trust is established, friendships are deep and enduring. It's common for relationships to extend beyond professional boundaries, often involving social gatherings and shared experiences. Trust is nurtured through honesty, reliability, and a genuine interest in others' well-being.

Poland's approach to hierarchy and management is generally rooted in respect for authority and seniority. It's common for organisations to have a hierarchical structure, with clear reporting lines. Polish leaders are expected to have charisma, the ability to motivate others and decide, control and take action – team members should listen and follow the leader. Openly disagreeing or contradicting managers would be unacceptable. However, modern business practices have started to emphasise more collaborative and inclusive leadership styles.

Punctuality and adherence to deadlines are highly regarded in Poland. Meeting deadlines demonstrates professionalism and respect for others' time.

Meetings in Poland are generally structured and formal, often beginning with a clear agenda and defined objectives. Participants are expected to be well-prepared and contribute substantively. Decision-making can be a meticulous process, with thorough discussions and analysis.

According to Hofstede’s Insights, Poland scores a very high 93 on the Uncertainty Avoidance scale. This means they may be uncomfortable with unorthodox behaviour and ideas, innovation may be resisted and security is an important element in individual motivation.

While many Poles, especially in urban areas, speak English, it's highly appreciated when you make an effort to learn some basic Polish phrases. This can be a valuable icebreaker and show respect for their culture. Learning common greetings, such as "Dzień dobry" (good morning) and "Proszę" (please), can go a long way.

While communication can initially be rather indirect, it will become much more direct, to the point of bluntness, once a Pole knows and trusts you. It’s at this point that people may show their emotions openly and will say ‘no’ when they dislike a request or proposal.

Polish business presentations can be relatively formal affairs. Polish counterparts value well-researched and thorough presentations. Ensure you have all the facts, figures, and data to support your points. Be prepared for in-depth questions and discussions. Poles value a comprehensive understanding of the topic and are not afraid to ask probing questions.

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Inspired? If you want to learn how you can work more effectively with your Polish colleagues, clients or supplier, contact us for a 'Doing business in Poland' sample course outline.  All training is tailored to meet your needs and delivered at a location of your choice.

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