Two Poles, Three Opinions

The saying ‘gdzie dwóch Polaków tam trzy opinie‘ (two Poles, three opinions) summarizes how Poles love to argue and rarely agree with one another. Apparently, it originated in 1791 when Poles certainly had a lot to discuss – the new constitution, the threat of partitions by Russia, Prussia and Austria, the conflicting interests of magnates, nobles and peasants…you can’t blame Poles for being argumentative at a time like that!

It’s quite the opposite in the UK. The equivalent expression in the UK, would be ‘Two Brits, One Opinion‘. In the UK, we build trust by agreeing on something trivial, e.g. the weather, traffic, sport etc. This is the purpose of ‘small talk’ – when both parties agree that it’s nice weather for ducks (i.e. it’s raining), then they know that the other party is open to agreement and the conversation can move on to more challenging subjects.

Indeed, in the UK, we rarely openly disagree with anyone. Disagreement is expressed as if you were actually agreeing (I hear what you say, I agree up to a point) even though we’re actually disagreeing. We even use the word ‘agreeable’ to describe a nice, reasonable person.

In Poland, disagreement is expressed much more directly and from the very beginning of an interaction. It’s how Poles build trust – by being open about their opinions, they are being honest. The listener knows exactly what the other person thinks and so can trust them.

And this is the trap! To reach the same goal – trusting someone – Poles and Brits use very different communication styles. In the UK, we are dishonest about our opinions and hide disagreement. While Poles are honest with their opinions and express disagreement openly.

This difference can be frustrating for the Brits and confusing for the Poles. I’ve worked with many British managers who led teams of Poles and were frustrated that their team members would openly disagree. Similarly, I’ve met so many Poles who were fooled into thinking that a British person agrees when actually they disagree.

  • Two Poles, three opinions.
  • Two Brits, one opinion.
  • Two cultures, two ways of building trust!

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