Traditional Polish Worldview

Individual Orientation
Individualistic, but with a large emphasis on family as an extension of the individual. Poles consider themselves independent and self-disciplined.

Relationship Focused 
Building relationships is an important and required step to achieving social and business goals

Striving for everyone to have equal rights is an important theme. But respect for hierarchy of seniority and position is practiced.

Need for Certainty 
Generally there is low tolerance for ambiguity and people require detailed explanation and understanding before making decisions.

The way people act with one another may be based on relationship, hierarchy and other contextual cues.

Fluid Time 
Being on time is important. But making decisions may take longer than in some fixed time cultures because of the emphasis on maintaining relationships and building consensus.

Cultural Notes:

  • Poland boasts 17 Nobel prize winners, including four Peace Prizes and five in Literature.
  • Other national heroes include: John Paul II, Lech Walesa, Nicolaus Copernicus and Frederic Chopin
  • Poland is bordered by 7 countries and the Baltic Sea.
  • Poland was under the rule of communism from 1945- 1989
  • Poland is a member of the European Union, NATO, the United Nations and the World Trade Organization.

Cultural Assumptions

  • Religion as a part of life
    • The Catholic Church is core to everyday life

    Caution, Conservatism

    • Anxiety about the future based on: a history of beingtaken over by neighboring countries; and the legacy ofbeing under communist rule from 1945-1989.

    Reliance on the Family

    • Family provides the foundation for endurance andperseverance
    • Each family member must take responsibility for self andfamily
    • Hierarchy helps structure roles and reduce uncertainty
    • Traditionally male dominated society, slowly changing

Traditional Polish Communication Style

Messages may seem direct because Poles believe people should be free to express opinions. However, it is sometimes challenging for outsiders to understand the real message in the communication because people may talk around the main issue and expect the real meaning will be understood. Humor is sometimes used to make a point.

High Context 
Messages are communicated in many ways. Dress, manner-isms, relationships, meeting setting and hierarchy all contrib-ute to the way a message may be delivered and interpreted.

Formality is very important in Poland. Exchanging business cards is an important business ritual. Use of titles is expected until someone suggests first-name basis.

Emotionally Expressive 
While containing emotion in a business setting is respected, it is not uncommon for people to become very passionate and engaged in a discussion or negotiation. Heightened emotion is not necessarily a sign that the discussion is going badly.

Fluid Time 
Foreigners are expected to be punctual, and there is a value on being on time. However, because there is still a great deal of bureaucracy, deadlines are often delayed.


Guidelines for Communicating with Poles

  • Be on time for appointments
  • Expect polite formality at initial meetings; warmer interactions take place after relationships and trust have been established.
  • Use titles and surnames until invited to use first names.
  • Poles are good listeners, and may listen thoroughly before responding.
  • Although English is the language of business, it is best to have all contracts and documents translated into Polish.
  • Employees are often looking for direction and may not be comfortable taking personal initiative.
  • As a manager, take time to articulate specific tasks and check with employees to demonstrate the importance of the employee and the project.
  • Try to make initial introductions through a local representative rather than on your own.
  • Expect employees to be willing to share opinions, though it may be in an indirect, but insistent manner.
  • When Poles are comfortable with you and you are part of their private circle, communication can be more outspoken, direct and even cynical.

Non-Verbal Dynamics

Flicking one finger against your neck is an invitation to join someone for a drink. Poles gesticulate a great deal while speaking to make their point. But they pay attention to the volume of their voices and tend to speak quietly in business and in public. People generally remove their shoes when entering someone’s home. In public, women who need directions or have other questions are expected to ask policemen or other women; approaching men is seen as flirtation.

Shaking hands is the most common business greeting. Men usually wait for women to offer their hand first. Another form of respectful greeting is a brief, shallow bow. Close friends greet each other very affectionately with hugging and kisses on the cheeks. This is most common for women, but some men also embrace and kiss.

Homes are generally very small, so there is not a great deal of personal space in the home. Most business entertaining takes place in restaurants. Poles are also used to less personal space in public, and they offer help to one another on trams, busses and in other public locations. Women tend to stand and walk very close, and often hold hands when walking.

Business Practices

PROBLEM SOLVING Employees may withhold discussing problems for a long time before finally raising them. Approaches to problem-solving can be indirect, and often one-on-one meetings are more productive than large group discussions.
MOTIVATING PEOPLE Generally Polish employees are motivated by the recognition of good performance, a more visible position with a higher title, the opportunity to work in a company that is contributing to the modernization of Poland, a chance to develop good relationships with colleagues, and by incentives that allow them to spend more leisure time with family and friends.
PERFORMANCE EXPECTATIONS In the past, HR was seen as a channel for instilling the goals of the communist party. Today, many companies have goal-setting, 360° feedback, and training programs. Employees may be suspicious of training because of the communist legacy and may not recognize it as a perk for advancement. Feedback must be handled carefully, and many Poles may not feel comfortable evaluating those above them.
NEGOTIATING, PERSUADING Contracts can take months to negotiate. Small enterprises have the flexibility to move more quickly. There is a certain pride in being tough and difficult to negotiate with. Having local representation can contribute to trust and sometimes lead to less strenuous negotiations. Documents should all be translated into Polish even if negotiations are in English.
DECISION MAKING PROCESS Can be very slow. Decisions come from the top, but only after managers can demonstrate consensus has been reached by their teams. This may take several group and one-on-one meetings. Staying in regular contact with business colleagues / partners can help facilitate the process.
PARTICIPATION IN MEETINGS Meetings are formal. All who are present are free to participate; however, in some cases rules of hierarchy mean that senior level people speak first and subordinates will speak when they know it is appropriate. Exchange of business cards is important. Meetings generally start on time. Attendees should wait to be told where to sit. Professional titles are used.
Older, more traditional managers have technical skills but may lack management skills. They may have the respect of their subordinates who complete tasks for them, but younger employees may not trust them to respond to the demands of modern business. Younger managers are beginning to adopt a less hierarchical, more results-driven manner of managing teams.
HIRING Recruiting is done through executive search firms and through the internet. Companies who decide to hire locally should be prepared to have translators present during interviews. Onboarding programs for foreign companies are key to helping new recruits understand international business culture which may differ from traditional Polish business culture. Dismissal is governed by the laws of the EU.
CUSTOMER RELATIONS Business is still largely based on relationships. Customers with long standing are given priority over new customers. Negotiations with new customers are going to be tougher and longer until a relationship is established.