Survival Guide to doing business in Sweden
History and culture matter
Planning to do business in Sweden? Knowing some basics about Swedish history will therefore be crucial, because it does explain a lot about the local behaviors and the set of values. Sweden went from being covered by the icecap, through a long period of farming and fishing, up to being one of the most industrialized and competitive countries in the world. Working with Swedes is about, first, understanding their culture, and what I call their ‘cultural iceberg’. The first obvious thing you see and think you might get, will only be the tip of the iceberg. Give a good first impression and be aware of the cultural cues they communicate to you.
For instance, the Swedes are very friendly in business and this friendliness has nothing to do with their final decision which can end up being either way positive or negative.
A Nordic approach
The Swedish relations to culture and behavior is very much different from the French one. Swedes’ conception and attitude towards hierarchy, time management, communication, gender values, work-life balance, the place of the individual and how they fit within a group are really different. So, when it comes to French-Nordic business life, these attitudes when not interpreted correctly, may cause some confusion.
For instance, gender equality is a core pillar of the business culture, and meetings are often very mixed or with female executives only. Age is also considered differently, as young professional can access more quickly higher responsibilities.
The values in Sweden can be translated in symbolic key words such as “Lagom”, which means “not too little, not too much, just the right amount”. When doing business in Sweden, a measured behavior with a balance and not too intense verbal communication or body language is required.
Shake hands, and please, no French kiss…
The “Allemansrätten” means the “right to public access”. Swedish people say that the land belongs to everybody, so feel free to camp or start a bonfire on your neighbor’s land but, by all means, remain discreet. To complete this idea, the concepts of transparency and access to information are also fundamental, both in the private and professional spheres.
In negotiations with Swedes, don’t make them lose faces, and always aim for a win-win solution. Power games won’t work in Sweden. “Consensus” is an essential part of the way Swedes work, and it is built on mutual trust and constructive debate.
All the parties concerned must agree at every stage of the business relation before considering moving to the next step.
To be or not to be on time
During your meetings in Sweden, be aware that “being on time” means arriving at the very least 5 minutes early. Being late is interpreted as being highly unprofessional. And, for once, enjoy Swedish working hours: leave the office at 4pm.
So, make sure not to schedule a meeting after 4pm!
To enjoy happy professional relations with Swedes, take time to share and enjoy a “Fika”.
Welcome to Sweden!
By Pia Abildgaard
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