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Answers to 5 Common Questions about Hungarian Business and Work Culture

Even though Hungary isn’t geographically far from Denmark, the cultural distance is quite large. This is a fact that surprises many Danish-based companies that already have global activities and don’t expect to encounter significant cultural differences in another European country. Learn about some of the key differences between Danish and Hungarian business and work culture here.

How important is hierarchy in Hungary? How do I ensure good communication with Hungarian colleagues? How should I address Hungarian business connections in an e-mail?

These are some of the most commonly asked questions from participants at our Hungarian cultural training sessions in Denmark.

To help answer these and other questions, we have talked to one of C3's Hungary Country Specialists, Szilárd Burján.

Szilárd was born in Romania but moved to Hungary at an early stage of his life and has since then lived in various countries across Europe and Asia. Speaking Hungarian, Romanian and English, Szilárd has cross-cultural working experience from a variety of contexts, including international education, international communications, and international project management.

1. How do you best maintain good working relationships with Hungarian colleagues?

Relationship-building is extremely important in Hungary.

Let's take a look here at C3 Consulting's 4R Model which focuses on the important cultural dimensions rank, relationship, risk, and responsibility (if you are not familiar with the 4R Model, you'll find an intro to the model here).

If you make a 4R analysis of both Hungary and Denmark, you'll see a big difference between these two countries when it comes to relationships. Hungary is a very relationship-oriented society, where it's important to socialize with colleagues and business connections. On the contrary, people generally don't spend much time on building relationships to business connections in Denmark, where there is much more focus on efficiency and getting the task done.

So if you want respect and trust from your Hungarian colleagues, you should use a lot of time on building relationships.

For a Dane, it might be difficult to distinguish between what is actually work and spare time to Hungarians. While Hungarians appreciate spare time, relationship-building activities are never neglected, so it's also important that you go out and do things with your colleagues. Go out and have drinks, dinners, attend conferences and receptions etc.

To maintain good relationships and build trust with your Hungarian colleagues, it's also a good idea to talk to them often to show them that you're interested in what is going on in their lives. And it's generally better to call once than to send three e-mails. That makes it more personal. To a Dane, it might seem as a waste of time to call a colleague or business partner just to hear how he/she is doing or it might even feel as you're intruding, but just remember that it's a way of taking care of both your relationship and your business.

Don't be afraid of asking your Hungarian colleagues personal questions about e.g. family, but don't do it the first time you meet them. Start with some more general small talk, and then when you have established a good relationship, you can ask these more personal questions to show your interest in them.

If a Hungarian colleague invites you home, accept the invitation and bring a gift. If it's a family, it's a good idea to bring gifts for all the family members – including the children. Hungarians are generally very hospitable, so when invited home to someone, just show that you enjoy being there, that you enjoy the food and the drinks etc. Then you can expect that your Hungarian host will enjoy having you as a guest as well.

If a colleague or business partner invites you out to a restaurant, you could ask the other person how to sort out the payment. When it comes to going out, there is no broadly accepted standard regarding who will pay, but if you are invited home to someone, don't never-ever ask if you can pay for the dinner or any part of it!

2. How do you ensure good communication with Hungarians?

What is especially important when you want to ensure good communication with your Hungarian colleagues, employees, or business partners is, again, that you use a lot of time on building relationships.

This also means that small talk is an important part of business meetings. If you're in a meeting in Hungary, don't just go directly to the points on the agenda. At business meetings in Hungary, participants strive to discover numerous connection points between organizations to ensure profitable business relations.

So try to explore connection points between you and your business partner, try to find out what you have in common or just in general show interest in the people attending the meeting.

3. Which role do hierarchy and status play in Hungary?

Hierarchy and status are important in Hungary.

If you look at rank in the 4R Model, you will also here see the big difference between Hungary and Denmark. Hungary is a high rank society, while in Denmark the hierarchy in a typical organization is much flatter. In Hungary, hierarchy is rarely openly challenged, whereas in Denmark, even though there is a leader, it's generally OK for employees to challenge their leaders if they feel like they have something better to contribute with.

If you are a Dane managing Hungarian employees, be aware that your employees will often not go against you or any other superior exactly because there is a clear hierarchy, which means that it's important to show that you respect both the hierarchy and the persons who have a higher status than yourself.

To make decisions in a Hungarian company, you have to be in a good position. This means that if you do not have a high position, and you come up with a good idea, you will have to present the idea to your superior who will eventually decide if the idea will be carried out.

Even though there is a hierarchy in Hungarian companies, employees are normally welcome to come up with ideas, but you should think thoroughly about it though before presenting an idea. If you come up with a bad idea, you might both lose respect from colleagues and from your leaders, and you might also lose face. So you definitely have to think before you talk.

When it comes to hierarchy, there's also differences related to age. Older Hungarians generally have a higher status than young Hungarians do.

4. How should you generally address Hungarian business connections?

Hungary is a pretty formal culture when it comes to addressing people.

So if you for instance write an e-mail, you should write formally. It's normal to write e.g. "Dear sir, first name, last name". Unless the other part offers a more informal way of writing to each other, it's best to just remain formal. So Hungarians are generally more formal than Danes where you don't use a lot of "sir" or "madam".

When it comes to e-mails, you don't have to use as much small talk as when you talk to a Hungarian business partner or colleague. Here you can go quicker to the purpose of the e-mail. If the person you're writing to is higher in the hierarchy than you, then you should be even more formal to show your respect.

5. Is there anything that you should not talk about with a Hungarian business connection?

In Hungary, current politics might be divisive, and people frequently represent strong opinions.

This is a sensitive topic, and you might engage yourself in an inconvenient conversation because you will be walking on thin ice. Especially foreigners should be careful because it can be very challenging to understand Hungarian politics. So if you really want or have to discuss it, first: read, research, and spend long hours on understanding Hungarian current politics.

This is also something that's important to think about as a Dane because Denmark is a country where it's much more normal to discuss e.g. politics and even to make fun of politicians. But generally, don't do that at all in Hungary.

A few more things to keep in mind

It's important to understand how history has had a strong influence on the self-understanding and behaviour of Hungarians.

The centralized bureaucracy during the socialist era heavily influenced the social structures. Only a couple of decades back, the private life as well as the workplace were dominated by the omnipresent socialist state. The vestiges of this era are still exercising a strong effect on everyday life.

Recently there has been a strong wave of positive reforms and development, while the mindset of elder generations is normally not changed. People born and raised during the socialist era will often have a different perspective than the younger generation.

Also, don't go to Hungary and expect that you already know exactly how all Hungarians are and how they will react. Remember that culture is dynamic, and individuals are all different, so you can never give one correct answer when it comes to culture. Remember that you will be working with individual people, each of whom will be unique in their own way, so make sure to stay curious and keep exploring.

Last, but not least: at C3 Consulting we believe that all cultural understanding begins with self-understanding.

So when you work cross-culturally remember to first look at your own cultural background and everything you take for granted. That's essential to discovering the key differences between your own and others’ cultures and is the first step towards dealing with those differences constructively.

Need inspiration on how to do that? Check out our article here.

And read more about how we work with culture in C3 Consulting here.

Want to learn more about how to collaborate effectively with your Hungarian business partners?

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