Cultural Differences – Estonia

Foreign business people tend to perceive Estonians as being somewhat taciturn and reserved. When they enter into negotiations with Estonians, they should refrain from immediately filling pauses in conversations by talking and try not to interrupt Estonians who tend to speak slowly and deliberately. Such behavior will just lead to Estonians feeling that their guests from abroad are impolite and will quickly classify them as impatient. It would be better if foreign managers learned to “endure” the many silent moments that occur during conversations and ensure that they run smoothly. Too much small talk, frequent questions or a very extroverted body language are perceived as unpleasant in Estonia. Don’t take this Estonian attitude to be unfriendliness, but merely as initial formality.

Direct style of communication

In the end, your patience will pay off, because Estonians will always be true to their word. They mean what they say. Hardly any other Eastern European business partners will get as straight to the heart of the matter as the Estonians will. Nevertheless, they tend to be diplomatic and tactful to avoid endangering the business relationship with criticism. In other words, be careful not to express criticism openly despite their direct communication style. Keep your emotions under control.

Respect and understatement

The Estonian business culture is one of courtesy and respect. It is of particular importance to know the status of a person and to behave accordingly. This applies both to business and negotiation partners as well as to people working within a strictly hierarchical Estonian company.

The outward appearance of a new business partner, which they study just as intensively as the project plans or contracts they bring with them, is also important. For their part, Estonians will approach their international guests with sophisticated understatement and offer their own know-how rather modestly. Business cards with high-sounding titles or overly elaborately designed presentations are quickly perceived as boastful. Instead, Estonians value a disciplined approach, sound argumentation and clear presentation. Reliability, integrity and punctuality are also expected.

Detail-oriented style of working

The results of the Estonian contribution to any collaborative projects will most likely be satisfactory, as hard work and quality are of great importance in Estonia. Estonians think and work in a detail-oriented manner. They keep their promises and expect the same of their business and project partners. Reliability, integrity and punctuality are important.

Katrin Koll Prakoonwit

+49 (0)711 722 468 44
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