Many business people working in Hungary are initially surprised at the level of direct communication and the conviction that sharing opinions openly is the best way to arrive at solutions. At the same time, “yes” can often mean that the idea is being considered rather than it being final agreement. Hierarchy is valued, but supervisors are expected to provide reasons and explanations for the directions they choose.

Traditional Hungarian Worldview

Group Orientation
Identity defined by group, family. The larger the “network” the more important the person.

Cooperation / Confrontation
Working in teams is important to meet a common goal. But direct debate and honest argument is the best way to find the right direction. Desire to be treated as creative individuals.

Relationship Focused
Relationships are necessary for all social and business interaction.

Patterns of hierarchy are observed, but there is a skepticism of those in positions of authority.

Tolerance for Ambiguity
Risk averse and resistant to change. Prefer long-term security and a long-term view. Change is tolerated when introduced at a steady pace.

Loose application of rules; requires understanding of context and relationship

Fluid Time
Punctuality is required, but meetings may not follow the agenda. Scheduling and deadlines are more flexible with possible interruptions.

Skillful use of irony is considered a virtue. National anthem calls Hungarians “a country torn by fate.” Somber response does not translate to negative relationships or outcomes.

Cultural Assumptions

  • Group affiliation very important. Who you know as important as what you know.
  • Education is highly valued as a tool for personal advancement.
  • Family must come first. Members take care of one another.
  • Debate is revered and important to finding the best answers.
  • Personal relationships are key to social and business success.
  • Work is not an end in itself –  “Work to Live.”
  • Hiding feelings only creates barriers in a relationship.
  • Pessimism and cynicism offer an opportunity to inject humor into a hard life.
  • Rules are in place, but certain situations may require creative ways around the rules.
  • Competition and perfectionism  emphasized from school age.

Traditional Hungarian Communication Style

Freely offer opinions on work issues, a person’s behavior, appearance or most any topic. Lengthy discussion of topics is common and allows individuals an opportunity to show intellectual skills.

High Context
Communication feels direct, but certain messages may be more implicit. Promises and positive statements may be used to re-establish face after arguments.

Observing formality is a sign of a good upbringing. Proper greetings and addressing people by title and last names until a relationship has developed is still common. The Hungarian language “Magyar” has formal and informal ways of addressing people according to level of hierarchy and relationship.

Emotionally Expressive
Openly showing anger, affection, disagreement and voicing opinions passionately is accepted and expected. However, before the ice is broken,  people may seem reserved and distant.

Guidelines for Communicating with Hungarians

  • Communication may feel direct because of openness in expressing opinions, but the real message may be difficult to find.
  • Saying “no” is difficult for Hungarians who are strive to maintain relationships. “Yes” may mean they are considering all the options, but have not yet agreed.
  • A reserved, refined, formal manner is expected before the relationship has developed.
  • Once invited into the “in-group” it is common to discuss family matters and be invited to visit and do business in colleagues’ homes or on outings with family members.
  • Skepticism of authority means that demands without explanation will often be disregarded.
  • Credentials, experience and good manners are respected.
  • Boasting is considered unrefined; more subtle ways of making one’s credentials known are better accepted.
  • Respect for the artistic and intellectual aspects of Hungarian culture is appreciated.
  • Debate and expressing opinions is seen as a way to develop transparency and come to the best solutions.
  • Withholding opinions may be viewed as hiding information
  • Individuals must have the opportunity to share views even if decision will come from the top
  • Pessimism is seen as wise. Optimism may mean you are unaware

Non-Verbal Dynamics

Opinions are easily expressed and gesturing with the hands may accompany heated discussion. Eye contact is a sign of interest and respect but sometimes looking away during challenging topics is expected.  Talking with hands in pockets is impolite. Shaking a fist or giving a thumbs down is rude. Sometimes wishing happy birthday will include slightly pulling the person’s earlobe.

Adults greet each other with a firm handshake. A man usually waits for a woman to extend her hand first. Kissing lightly on the cheek is also common. Showing affection in public is accepted. Good friends may walk with their arms around each other’s shoulders. Touching between people who have not established a relationship is unwelcome.

Personal space is somewhat limited. Extended families may live together. People from outside the “in-group” keep a greater physical distance than those who are friends, family or close colleagues.

Business Practices

PROBLEM SOLVING It is impossible to solve the problem without understanding all of the factors that went into creating it. Discussion, debate and exploration are needed in order to find the best solutions. May be more circular than linear.
MOTIVATING PEOPLE Provide challenges, opportunity for increased responsibility, advancement, personal development. Opportunity to express opinions and work toward group goal.
APPRAISING PERFORMANCE Taking a “we” approach is much more effective than an “I” and “you” approach. Exploring different ways that the individual has contributed to the team effort and ways s/he could be more effective in the future; joint goal setting.
PERFORMANCE EXPECTATIONS A job done precisely with thorough planning is valued more than meeting arbitrary deadlines.
NEGOTIATING, PERSUADING Protracted. Consideration is given to many peripheral issues. Time is needed to consider all of the options on the table. If the process is hurried it risks failing. Facilitation may be tightened if group approval is sought to move forward.
DECISION MAKING PROCESS Decisions are delivered from the top. But everyone must be able to have their say to lend legitimacy to the decision. Pre-meetings may prepare people for what will be said at the larger meeting.
PARTICIPATION IN MEETINGS Everyone is expected to participate in meetings, which are interactive and may appear argumentative. Refraining from stating an opinion may be viewed as withholding information.
It is accepted that subordinates will follow the decisions of their superiors. However, authority will not be respected unless the employee is treated as a creative individual with value to the group.
HIRING Hiring based on a combination of group affiliation and formal education and skills. Dismissal is governed by EU labor laws.
CUSTOMER RELATIONS Personal contact is the single most important factor in good customer relations. Trying to manage these relations exclusively from a distance (emails and phone messages) is likely to deteriorate the relationship.