If you have lived in Poland for a while, you will have heard stories about the business culture in Poland. These stories can range from small issues through to large problems, but they all go back to one key point, which is the lack of trust in the Polish business environment. If you are new here, you might find yourself asking – what is this, and how does it affect foreigners trying to do business here?

Common in some parts of the world, a handshake can be considered to be an unbreakable bond once made by some foreigners. This often results in major understandings at best, and should be avoided at all costs. The handshake carries very little weight in Polish society, and must be treated as a friendly gesture upon meeting someone.
When negotiating an agreement, it should be considered as merely provisional until a contract is drawn up and signed by both sides. Some foreigners (particularly from countries such as Ireland) may be shocked by the level of detail required in a contract, but a good rule is to always act as if you are negotiating on behalf of a large international corporation. This will prevent problems and misunderstandings later, and provides a degree of security for both sides.

Always verify your business partners
If you want to succeed in Poland, a key step to take is to verify your business partners and companies that . Don’t just take their word at face value, but rather do your own background checks. Many businesses can seem impressive on first impressions, but it is important to establish the real credentials of a new business partner. Poland has many tools available to help, such as the National Debt Register, and taking 30 minutes to conduct checks can save months of problems later.

While it can be tempting to take advantage of a cheap offer from an enthusiastic business with little experience, it almost always ends in tears. The Polish business environment is tough to negotiate for new entrepreneurs, and unrealistic promises are often made. Experience matters in Poland, especially if they already have experience in navigating the world of public sector bureaucracy. This particularly applies with lawyers and accountants – don’t look at the price, but look at their knowledge and experience relating to your own specific situation.

Vanishing partners
Above all, this is one key problem in the Polish business environment. A major problem occurs, and the person that you’ve been happily working with will simply vanish. You’ll call, e-mail and text, yet the person is suddenly busy and doesn’t have time for you. Why does this happen? Opinions vary, but a good rule to remember is that it can be very culturally difficult for a Polish partner to deliver bad news, particularly to a Western partner.
What can be done? Unfortunately, there’s very little you can do in this situation – so all that can be done is to immediately cease cooperating and look for a new business relationship elsewhere. If money is involved, a firm hand often yields positive results, but it is wise to remember that cash flow is a common problem in Polish businesses due to the monthly tax liabilities that companies have.

In conclusion, is it really so bad in Poland? The answer is: it depends. Many problems are caused by cultural misunderstandings rather than genuine bad will, and a reliable Polish partner will be someone that you can trust for many years without problems. However, anyone considering doing business in Poland should be aware that foreigners also behave in unpredictable and wild ways, and that the local business environment is no better or worse than elsewhere.