Warsaw: Cultural Dimensions and Barriers

An understanding of intercultural communication is becoming more and more important in the modern changing world. Online communication, the Internet and phenomena such as globalization have made awareness of other cultures extremely important, especially in the business setting.

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The different culture that is under discussion is Poland. Poland has a largely urban population, with approximately 60% of the people living in cities (Polish Culture and Life Style). Warsaw is the capital of the country and has almost two million inhabitants. Historically, the culture of the country is a combination of Latin and Byzantine influences, with many European influences over time. One study characterizes this unique culture as “…a diverse mix of the East and the West – a colorful cohabitation of the vibrant Eastern ornamental style and the & #8230;Islamic influence (Polish Culture and Life Style).

In general terms a central characteristic of Polish culture is a patriotic involvement in the country, which is combined with a strong sense of community. At the same time, Poles show as great degree of independence and autonomy (Doing Business in Poland | Polish Social and Business Culture).

The following sections will explore the various aspects of Polish culture and the specific aspects and norms that one should be aware of when dealing with an individual from this culture.

2. Theoretical Aspects of Polish Culture

The above discussion can be linked to the work of cultural theorists like Geert Hofstede. Hofstede is renowned for his research into the interaction between cross cultural groups, as well as organizations. He has also developed a “… systematic framework for assessing and differentiating national cultures and organizational cultures” (Corruption through our Culture (based on Geert Hofstede Analysis), 2011).

Geert Hofstede proposed his cultural dimensions theory for assessing the relationship between different cultures. In developing this theory he obtained his data on different cultures from IBM employees in approximately 70 countries between 1967 and 1973 (Rozbicka, 2008). After analysis of the responses from the participants in his research he developed his theory of cultural dimensions.

Hofstede isolated a number of main cultural dimensions: these are; Individualism-Collectivism, Power Distance, Masculinity vs. Femininity and Uncertainty Avoidance (Rozbicka, 2008). These categories, as well as a fifth, Long-Term Orientation, formed the basis for his comparison of different cultures. This theory provides as very useful tool for understanding and preparing for a visitor from Warsaw.

To elucidate on this theory further, the following is a brief summary of the different cultural dimensions.

Power distance is the “…degree of inequality among people which the population of a country considers as normal.”

Individualism vs. collectivism refers to the “…extent to which people feel they are supposed to take care for or to be cared for by themselves, their families or organizations they belong to….”

Masculinity vs. femininity is the “…extent to which a culture is conducive to dominance, assertiveness and acquisition of things vs. A culture which is more conducive to people, feelings and the quality of life.”

Uncertainty avoidance is the “… degree to which people in a country prefer structured over unstructured situations.”

Long-term vs. short-term orientation refers to a value orientation directed to the future, such as saving, as opposed to a value orientation oriented towards the past and present, such as respect for tradition.

(Sarkar, 2011)

In terms of this theory a number of deductions can be made about someone from Poland. For example, the measure of Uncertainty Avoidance Index ( UAI) among the different cultures refers to the way that different people deal with uncertainty and change. “Those groups that measure high on the UAI tend to experience high anxiety regarding uncertainty and seek to limit or minimize the uncertainty in any given situation” (Part 5: Autism and Geert Hofstede’s Cultural Dimensions Theory — Uncertainty Avoidance Index). Conversely, those cultures which have a low measure of this aspect are usually more pragmatic, more relaxed in terms of rules and more tolerant towards change. Poland scores high, with Greece and Russia, on this index. This would suggest that someone for this culture would be rule orientated and not susceptible to change. This has implications in terms of this briefing. People from Poland will therefore tend in general, according to this theory, to be more comfortable in an environment that is rule based and where there is as little change as possible.

In terms of the Power Distance Index, it has been found that Poland is a particularly hierarchical society.

At a score of 68, Poland is a hierarchical society. This means that people accept a hierarchical order in which everybody has a place and which needs no further justification. Hierarchy in an organization is seen as reflecting inherent inequalities, centralization is popular, subordinates expect to be told what to do and the ideal boss is a benevolent autocrat.”


This might pose a problem with regard to making the new individual feel at home in a more flexible and casual environment. Therefore, the positions of seniority and the way that individuals at different levels relate to one another need to be clearly outlined and explained.

However, this aspect seems to contradict some other findings with regard to this culture; for example, the findings with regard to individuality characteristics. The cultural sense of individuality in Polish society is relatively high, with a score of 60 in terms of Hofstede’s theory. In Polish culture therefore there is a “…high preference for a loosely-knit social framework in which individuals are expected to take care of themselves and their immediate families only” (GEERT HOFSTEDE: Poland). Therefore, these two aspects, individuality and respect for authority, are part of the complex nature of Polish culture and should be taken into account when meeting a person from this culture.

3. Problematic Areas

The above discussion has already elucidated on some areas that should be taken into account. There are however a number of issues that should be noted.

The first of these is the area of non- verbal communication. People from a different culture often have different conventions for non-verbal communications and knowledge of these behavior patterns can greatly reduce any unnecessary tension and also facilitate positive interaction. A knowledge of these non-verbal conventions also help to reduce and ‘culture shock’ that might occur in the beginning stages ( Wu).

Shaking hands is a common form of greeting in Poland. When meeting, the common etiquette is to shake hands, followed by the standard greeting of “dzien dobry” (Good morning) or the less formal “czesc “(hello) ( Batorska-Miller, 2007).

Another greeting custom that may be unfamiliar in many other countries is kissing hands. This is seen as a sign of respect (Batorska-Miller, 2007).

A seemingly small but important aspect to consider in this regard is that Polish people in general do not chew gum and tend to speak in a soft voice (Cultural Gestures). With regard to the latter aspect, this should not be misconstrued as a submissive attitude. Another aspect to remember is that “Men may greet women by kissing their hands; women greet other women with a slight embrace and kiss on the cheek” (Cultural Gestures). Another factor that has been noted is that Polish people are often averse to casual physical context, such as touching someone on the shoulder (Cultural Gestures).

As has been already referred to, Poland has a formal culture that is aware of hierarchy. This has important implications for business etiquette. In the first instance, first names in formal, business setting are rarely used. People should therefore be addressed by their title and surname.

Furthermore, “Poles are direct communicators, believing that it is better to express opinions directly, rather than hiding the truth behind diplomacy or coded language” (What should I know about business etiquette in Warsaw?). Therefore direct speech is seen as a sign of respect.

One should also take into account that while polish people emphasizes close personal relationships, the history of the country and its many invasions and occupations have made them suspicious of strangers — this means that trust in a relationship has to be earned. This can be translated to the business environment as follows: “… when conducting business in Poland, you may find that your Polish colleagues adopt a fairly formal approach to begin with and it may take several meetings before any final decisions are made”(Doing Business in Poland | Polish Social and Business Culture).

Another finding that has bearing on this discussion is that Poland scored a high 64 on the Masculinity index. This means that the qualities associated with masculinity, such as assertiveness form an important part of the culture. In a business setting this means that “…managers are expected to be decisive and assertive, the emphasis is on equity, competition and performance and conflicts are resolved by fighting them out “(GEERT HOFSTEDE: Poland).

4. Business Practices

Following from the above, certain aspects of business practice should be noted. The exchanging of business cards is seen as being a norm and part of the Polish business etiquette (Doing Business in Poland | Polish Social and Business Culture). Importantly, there is a certain structure and decorum involved in business negotiations. For example, the atmosphere is usually relaxed and contemplative and “…periods of silence are not uncommon and are an essential part of negotiating” (Doing Business in Poland | Polish Social and Business Culture). Consequently, small talk is not seen as part of the negotiating situation. However, before a business meeting casual conversation is usually part of the process.

5. Conclusion: Recommendations

In terms of the above analysis a number of central aspects emerge. The most significant is the Polish respect for authority and hierarchy which must be balanced against their strong sense of individuality. Small points of etiquette, such as shaking hands and addressing people formally at first, are also important to remember.

In the final analysis, the most important aspect of interacting with someone for Warsaw is to not only be aware of their customs but also to be sensitive to any nuances or signs of discomfort in the process of meeting and communication. It is also a good idea to ask questions if one is unsure of the individual’s cultural preferences at any stage.


About Poland, viewed 15 December, 2011,

Batorska-Miller, K 2007, Understanding communication and body language of polish people, viewed 15 December, 2011, http://www.helium.com/items/550690-understanding-communication-and-body-language-of-polish-people.

Corruption through our Culture (based on Geert Hofstede Analysis 2011, viewed 15 December, 2011, < http://imsingh1999-mannu.blogspot.com/2011/05/corruption-through-our-culture.html>.

Cross Cultural Business. Doing Business with Poland: Do They Know It’s Lunchtime?, viewed 15 December, 2011, .

Cultural Gestures, viewed 15 December, 2011, .

Doing Business in Poland | Polish Social and Business Culture, viewed 15 December, 2011, .


GEERT HOFSTEDE: Poland, viewed 15 December, 2011, < http://geert-hofstede.com/poland.html>.

Poland: Language, Culture, Customs and Etiquette, viewed 15 December, 2011, viewed 15 December, 2011, .

Polish Culture and Life Style, viewed 15 December, 2011, .

Rozbicka, A 2008, Cultural Bridge Between Poland and China, viewed 15 December, 2011, .

Part 5: Autism and Geert Hofstede’s Cultural Dimensions Theory — Uncertainty Avoidance Index, viewed 15 December, 2011, .

Sarkar, S 2011, According to Geert Hofstede there is no such…, viewed 15 December, 2011, .

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