Business practices in Eastern Europe changed once countries in the region left the Soviet Bloc and started to work with countries in the West. However, individual countries in the region still may maintain their own acceptable cultural norms, and overseas visitors will build better relationships by taking time to learn how these differences may affect business etiquette.
For many years, Eastern Europeans didn't learn English in schools, as countries in the Soviet Bloc taught Russian. Younger professionals may speak English to a good standard; however, this may not be the case with all the people you meet, especially if they are older. If you think that there may be language difficulties, ask if you should bring an interpreter to the meeting. The contacts you meet in any country will appreciate it if you learn a few words of greeting in their language. Translating one side of your business cards and key documents into the country's language also makes a good impression.
A firm handshake and direct eye contact is essential in all countries in this region. It is better to be more formal than informal, at least to start with. Do not call people by their first names until invited to do so and use their titles when addressing them. In some countries, such as Poland, it is polite to wait for a woman to extend her hand for a handshake first; in others, such as Macedonia, it is polite to greet women before men. If you are meeting a group of people, make sure to shake hands with them all individually when you meet them and when you leave.
Avoid arranging business meetings on Friday afternoons, as many Eastern European countries start to wind down, or close early for the weekend. Meetings tend to run on a formal basis, at least initially, and you may have to go through a series of meetings to establish your credentials before you meet a decision-maker. Foreign visitors should dress formally and arrive punctually. Your hosts may arrive quite late, depending on the country, but you should not view this as unprofessional. Meetings usually start with some polite small talk; avoid getting too personal at this stage. Businesses in some countries, such as the Ukraine, may host meetings over a meal as this is seen as a good way to build relationships.
Follow the Leader
Many business meetings in Eastern Europe work on a hierarchical structure, led by the most senior person in the room. This person usually is easy to identify, as other people in the meeting will defer to him, and he may start the meeting with a brief speech. If you have a group of representatives at the meeting, your most senior member should take a similar role to establish authority.
Know When to Negotiate
Negotiations can be difficult in Eastern Europe, as individual countries may have different attitudes about the practice. Some people expect to negotiate to reach an amicable agreement; others do not. For example, Czechs typically tell you what they want directly and may view attempts to negotiate negatively. On the other hand, Russians expect some give-and-take, may be much more emotional about the negotiations process and may view not negotiating as a sign of weakness.
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