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Two words that you need to learn when you do business in Poland — “Kombinować” and “załatwiać”

When I as a little kid we were still in deep communism, there were only 2 TV channels and empty shelves in shops. But we were kids and today we tend to remember only the good things. One of them was a TV show of Adam Slodowy, self-made and brilliant inventor. The show was called… (now it’s time for you to guess).

Do it yourself

what translates into Polish as “Zrób to sam”. In 505 episodes the show taught us how to make various toys and contraptions — from mini airplanes to working radios — with simple and everyday supplies. I do not have to tell you what we did right after the show (there were no adverts in between the show — RLY!). We tried to do this ourselves.

So what?

you can ask. I’d like to answer this question in two parts, or maybe explaining it with two words that I think may exist in this form only in post-communist countries. Those two words define our ability to solve many issues and have a very specific approach to work, life, making business and everything else. Those two words are…

“Kombinować” and “załatwiać”

Both words, if you look at them in the Dictionary of Polish Language have bad connotations. Both words relate to something that may not be fully legal and may include some actions that are outside the regulations or use some gray areas of those. In some cases it is true, but if you still remember “Zrób to sam” TV show introduced at the very beginning of this post you can look at it from totally…

Different perspective

The colloquial meaning of both words and daily usage of them is — especially in Poland — very positive. Let’s start with kombinować. For the purpose of this text let’s assume that I have a very difficult task to cope with. I know how to do this, I have all the necessary tools and data, but at the same time, I know that the deadline may be too close to do it on time. What should I do then?

№1. Kombinować

The standard approach may be: communicate as soon as possible asking for more time or smaller scope, but when you are Polish you’d say: Hey Ho! Let’s do it and… guess what. Sit and think. If you use the kombinować approach, you do not plan to work long hours, you do not plan to involve more people, you…

Sit and think

If you know how to kombinować you sit and think first. Even if you have 5 days to do the job, you sit and think — sometimes for the whole day one. It may seem that you waste 1/5 of your time, but that’s not true. If you are Polish and you know how to “kombinować” you deconstruct the problem, task, or even a project and look at it from different perspectives, involve different people, and combine it back with the approach that will let you do the job during another 2 days, so you’ll get 2 extra days. This approach involves no cheating, everything is legal, all tasks are right. They are just smart. This is what we have learned from Mr. Slodowy: how to make various toys with simple supplies.
Now let’s look at the other word that is…

№2. Załatwiać

When the kombinować is rather focused on your own ability to force your brain to deliver the solution that is not obvious the załatwiać is more about communication and relations between people. Once again let’s create a context. There is a case with HR department. The standard approach means that solving the case will take 3 days, but you forgot about it and the deadline is today. The formal approach will not work. Escalation will put you in the spotlight. Reporting back that the task will be delayed will put you in the spotlight again. So… you go and try to załatwić this case. This 2nd most important word when you plan to work in Poland or with Polish folks means…

Negotiate, exchange, have influence

Załatwiać from my perspective is also rooted in communism. Not in the system itself, but in a way how people were forced to cope with it. Let’s assume that you live in the city. Empty shelves in groceries are not good enough explanation for not eating meat during Sunday dinner (yep, I remember that the best dinner was always that day). You can’t buy it. So what you do. You need to załatwiać, as kombinować may not work, as you live in the city. You need to find someone that has is and negotiate, influence. Of course, załatwiać involves exchanging goods, favors, etc. but is based on building good relations with others, and investing in them.
So going back to HR case, if something is possible, but the procedure slows it down we will go and try to załatwiać as they are aware that this is possible and depends only on the willingness of the other individual. Of course, we know that we will have to do the same when the individual will approach us, but the task is done, and — with the help of anonymous individuals — we made it.

What Gary Vee is not saying

So when I watch Gary Vaynerchuk (he’s from Belarus so he knows how tokombinować and załatwiać) saying that we should hustle I totally agree, but what he’s not sharing those two things that he’s got in his genes.

In order to be successful we should:

  • hustle — work hard, be patient and work hard again,
  • kombinować — give your brain time and comfort to analyze, deconstruct the challenge and put it back into place with different approach and
  • załatwiać — that can be summed up as not being a douchebag and maintaining good, friendly relations with other individuals that may or may not help us in future.

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