Do not expect any concrete results from your first business meeting in Poland. For Poles, the purpose of this first contact is purely to get to know each other. It is a way of testing the water, to see whether there is a mutual rapport and whether cooperation is possible. The interpersonal relationship is far more important for Poles than factual details. This means that first gaining the trust of your Polish counterparts is a prerequisite for successful collaboration.
First impressions count. Poles will interpret your appearance and your manner of dress on a personal level. It is best to dress well as your Polish business partners will regard this as a sign of respect and appreciation. However, your attire should not come across as excessively expensive or even ostentatious. Poland is predominantly Catholic and modesty is highly valued as a personal characteristic.
On the whole, business people dress conservatively in Poland. The dress code for men is a suit, shirt and tie. Women are encouraged to accentuate their femininity in Poland. If you do not wish to appear stern and unapproachable, it is best to avoid an overly masculine style. A skirt and blouse or a business suit is ideal.
Likewise, good manners are highly esteemed in Poland. It is common practice to hold doors open for women, offer them a seat, allow them to enter a room first and help them into their coats.
People in Poland shake hands when meeting. A firm handshake is key and you should maintain eye contact with your counterpart.
You may then offer your business card. Business cards play a pivotal role in Poland. They provide information on your academic titles above a doctorate; they state your exact professional position and thus your decision-making authority. Without a business card and a significant professional title, you are a nobody in the Polish business. Therefore, it is a good idea to have your business cards also printed in English.
Form of address
At the introductory meeting, it is customary to address others in Poland as Mr or Ms, plus the person’s first name. Julia Kaczmarek is thus Pani Julia and Janusz Nowak Pan Janusz.
Titles are used when speaking to managers. A director or vice-director is referred to as Pan Dyrektor and is addressed as Panie Dyrektorze, while a professor is Pan Profesor and a female doctor is Pani Doktor.
However, you may not need to worry about the correct form of address as business negotiations in Poland tend to be in English.
A question of understanding
As a general rule, you may assume that your meeting in Poland will be in English; all the same, you are advised to query this beforehand. The services of an interpreter are often used. In this case, it must be clarified which party will provide them. The Polish company will often regard providing a suitable interpreter as its responsibility. As a guest, should you bring your own interpreter, you may be sure that this will be seen as a token of your high esteem.
Getting to know each other
As mentioned earlier, good personal relationships are key to establishing business contacts in Poland. In other words, Poles place the greatest emphasis on harmonious relationships. Therefore, at a business meeting, you should make every effort to build a special rapport with your Polish business partners.
Tell them about yourself and ask about their families. With Poland being predominantly Catholic, most people are married and family is the number one topic. Moreover, it is not considered unprofessional to talk about your private affairs. On the contrary: informal details offer an excellent starting point for discovering common ground and establishing a bond. Sport is also a popular topic. Football in particular is a national sport in Poland.
Perhaps you can also slip a few, newly learned Polish phrases into your conversation? As Polish is rarely taught as a foreign language, your Polish business contacts will be delighted that you have made the effort to learn a couple of sentences in their language.
Poles do not like chit-chat
Nevertheless, Poles are not fond of small talk. Although they have since learned the art of casually chatting from other countries, they still find small talk merely superficial. It is thus best to avoid overdoing the pleasantries or repeatedly attempting to break the ice by talking about the weather or the traffic. Concentrate on one topic, but go into greater depth. Listen properly, show interest and ask questions. This is a much better method of getting Poles to open up than small talk. However, you should avoid political and historical topics wherever possible to ensure the exchange remains harmonious.
Show respect and appreciation
Respect and mutual appreciation are central aspects of Polish culture. Remain courteous and deferential at all times in your dealings with your Polish business partners and meet them as equals. Be sincere and genuine, never be stinting with your praise. Stress how much you value the collaboration. The personal relations that you are establishing are more crucial to the success of your project than any content issues.