Lithuanians are tough businessmen. They give in slowly and do not enjoy doing so. During meetings they present a poker face, but they will never fail to notice their partner's brand of clothing.
Among the fastest growing EU economies, Lithuania offers interesting opportunities for exporters. It is the largest and southernmost of the three Baltic states, and while Latvia and Estonia have been strongly influenced by Russia and Finland, Lithuania's culture tends to be in a category of its own. And since its accession to the EU its market has become more modern and sophisticated, with higher demands for quality.
Each for one's self and those they know
Lithuanian society is very hierarchic, and this is doubly true for companies. For instance, meetings are rarely attended by both upper level management and regular staff, and a similar approach is expected from trade partners. Attendance of negotiations by employees in lower positions may even require approval from superiors.
This formality is also reflected in the type of discussions that are deemed acceptable. During work meetings, it is normal to talk about work or national sports, but political issues generate powerful feelings and can lead to arguments. In the off-hours, subjects such as personal experiences and family are more appropriate.
With an emphasis on personal connections, a whole range of matters are resolved through family and acquaintances. Because the country's market is relatively small and people in business circles know each other well, it becomes extremely important to have representatives living in Lithuania who have acquired local trust and respect. Lithuanians are generally hospitable and friendly towards foreigners, and they highly appreciate long-term friendship. So take advantage of any opportunities for establishing good relationships during informal meetings, to which Lithuanians will most likely invite you after successful or important negotiations.
Gucci and poker face
The act of greeting in Lithuania includes a handshake. However, take care to apply just enough strength to appear confident, but not so much that you come off as aggressive, and always make eye contact. During exchanges with strangers, Lithuanians protect their personal space and are watchful of non-verbal communication, which includes being careful not to show their emotions outwardly. Similarly reserved behavior is also recommended for their business partners, and this extends to clothing and time: choose quality, brand-name attire and be punctual.
Most often Lithuanians negotiate toughly; they are slow to make concessions and do not like doing so. You may find that they ask a lot of questions about details because they place great value on caution and substance, preparing extensively for meetings, with an interest in getting directly to the heart of the matter.
It is customary among Lithuanians to address people using first names, but it is always best to wait until they initiate this. And remember: in the event of a business lunch or dinner, the host is expected to pay the bill, even during repeat meetings.
Bureaucracy is imbedded in the Lithuanian culture, and concluding a transaction can last longer there than it might here. It is a good idea to have all steps confirmed in writing, especially financial arrangements. Even so, unfortunately, Lithuania's payment promptness ranks towards the bottom of the ladder among EU member states.
Regarding communication, the younger generation often opts for negotiations with foreign business partners to be held in English, but Russian is still preferred by some. Phone calls are preferable to emails among older business people, but following up your verbal decisions and agreements with written reference to them in an email or traditional letter is a wise practice that indicates your serious intent. Also, small gifts are commonly exchanged between business partners.