Never refer to a Hungarian as an Eastern European as that is a sensitive spot for the people of Hungary, which is both geographically and culturally located in Central/ East-Central, Europe. Due to the country’s unique location, Hungary always has been at the crossroads between Eastern and Western cultures and functioned as a bridge between the East and West. This integration of Eastern and Western characteristics has had its advantages, particularly in the last 25 years as industry in Hungary has largely conformed to Western business cultural norms. At their core, however, both in and out of the workplace, Hungarians’ value systems are drawn from both Eastern and Western influences.
And Hungary’s cultural dichotomy doesn’t end there. While cultural differences exist among the generations in much of the world, in this region, that gap has been particularly remarkable since the economic and political changes of 1989.
The Depression, caused by 500 years of foreign occupation and the loss of two-thirds of Hungary’s territory and half of its population in the 1920 Treaty of Trianon may have led to Hungarians’ well-known pessimism (though it doesn’t dampen their sense of humor!). That said, the pessimistic tendencies of Hungarian culture appear to be in flux as the younger generations are trying to adopt a more positive way of thinking.
It sometimes is said that Hungarians raise problems without offering solutions. This approach is likely due, in large part, to the historically hierarchical approach of Hungarian culture. Traditionally, Hungarians embraced a top-down approach to management, discouraging subordinates from offering solutions. This tendency, however, also largely correlates to generations, with Hungarians under the age of 35 often being much more open and dynamic.
Hungarians seem to have a talent for absorbing themselves into other cultures and then becoming the prototypes of those cultures. In particular, younger Hungarians quickly pick up Western business cultural norms.
A strong relationship orientation is another typical feature of Hungarian culture. Therefore, critical business issues need to be discussed face-to-face, and frequent visits and phone calls are required if you want to be successful, especially with people over the age of 40. A word of advice: Don’t refuse social invitations as they help build good relationships, which are important for Hungarians.
- Consider Hungarians’ hierarchical tendency when delivering training in Hungary. Trainers must establish their credentials so learners respect their knowledge and expertise. Be formal and respect titles and positions at the start. That said, you will need to create a friendly learning atmosphere that encourages trainees to participate actively in the program.
Be prepared to overcome a challenge in breaking the ice with participants, particularly those who are older. Once you have established a relationship, you can be become a bit more familiar.
Recognize that Hungarians prefer a didactic teaching style. This should not come as a surprise as the Hungarian educational system originally followed the German/Prussian model. Hungarians want to have a clear theoretical background and plenty of examples illustrating the theory. Experiential activities can be used, particularly with younger participants, but they must be well explained and thoroughly debriefed.
Know that Hungarians appreciate punctuality and adherence to schedules, but they may lose all sense of time if they get involved in a lively discussion.
- Hungarians don’t like criticism and open confrontation, so give only positive feedback on their contributions in public. When asking for feedback at the end of the training, let participants give their responses individually in writing. If you ask the group to provide feedback, you may get polite but empty responses.
Klara Falk-Bano is a senior associate with Global Dynamics, www.global-dynamics.com. Based in Budapest, she specializes in cross-cultural training, management and leadership training, negotiations training, and global teambuilding. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 305.682.7883.