Negotiations in Sweden

When you enter negotiations with Swedes you should be well aware of your inner attitude and also reflect what impression you are making on the other side during the conversations. Swedes will always see you as a negotiating partner and not as a negotiating opponent. They will search for a solution in a friendly and nice way, one that is positive for you and for themselves. And they expect the same from you!

Negotiating strategy

While in some countries negotiations usually open up with maximum demands, and then there is an attempt to enforce them, Swedes go into the discussion with a quite realistic position and a smaller room to negotiate. They are willing to take aspects and desires of the negotiating partner into consideration and include them in the agreement.

Are the Swedes unprepared?

It is often reported that Swedes are unprepared when entering negotiations. But appearances are deceptive. It is indeed true that Swedes often come to negotiations (even sometimes very important ones) with nothing but a pen and a blank sheet of paper. But it would be a mistake to interpret that as being unprepared.

Merely because there is no written material, and no numbers, facts, figures and presentations on the table, that does not mean that Swedes do not know what they want. They are often underestimated, and that can lead to disadvantages for the other side of the negotiations.

In a training session a Swedish woman explained her negotiating tactics, which a few weeks before had allowed her to win a contract worth millions: she and her team had simulated and calculated various scenarios and developed and worked out plans on pin boards to make themselves aware of room to negotiate, possibilities and their consequences. But they went into negotiations with no materials (presumably with a pen and a blank sheet of paper). The first question she asked their negotiating partners was: ›What does the result of these negotiations have to look like so that you can go home satisfied?‹

Compromises are positive!

Sweden is a society based on consensus, and so there is an attempt in negotiations, even between negotiating rivals, to find the best possible results for both sides. Whereas compromises are often felt to be negative in other countries – it’s only a compromise, we could not get what we wanted – Swedes learn from childhood that compromises are positive!

You can use that for your advantage. If you go into negotiations and from the start give signals that you are interested in a compromise, you remove from the discussion its sharpness and harshness. That in its turn has the advantage that you are not perceived as aggressive and obstinate. Instead, you can surprise them with your friendliness and colleagueship and use that in a positive way for the result of the negotiations. The probability that you will reach a good compromise or even a win-win situation is enhanced greatly.

Swedish understatement

Not only can an apparent lack of preparation be annoying when negotiating with Swedes. The absence of status symbols can cause uncertainty. Is the person opposite the right negotiating partner at all, with the appropriate authority to make decisions? For example, it can certainly happen that on Swedish business cards there is no title and not even the position in the firm. And a sometimes unconventional way of dressing can bring about further doubts.

Hence a delegation from a foreign country that went to Sweden for negotiations that were in-house but still of great importance, where sums of millions were involved, reported that the responsible board chairman appeared in a T-shirt and jogging shoes. That may not be standard in Sweden, but it did leave a lasting impression on that group of business people.

So do not pay attention to external appearances of your Swedish negotiating partners. You will presumably not find the signals you normally expect in your country to be able to judge the other side in Sweden.

Silence is good!

Sudden silence and calm on the part of the Swedes can also bring about uncertainty. In many countries communication is generally very rapid and direct, statement and counter-statement can overlap. Silence is felt to be

Swedes consider silence to be pleasant. They like to leave a short pause between statement and counter-statement; not letting someone finish speaking is crudely impolite. It shows respect and mutual esteem if you let what has been said resonate for a while before answering.

An extreme example was described to me by a German firm that had to come to an important agreement in Sweden and with Swedes. The negotiations were actually almost finished, when a silence suddenly filled the room, obviously for quite a long time. The Germans got nervous. Something seemed to be wrong – and they made concessions on improvements to agreements already reached so as not to let the contract break down.

The Swedish side reported they had simply silently and respectfully let the desired and good negotiation result resonate. But they had been pleasantly surprised by all the sudden concessions and of course had happily accepted them. Large sums were involved – to the disadvantage of the other side …

Uta Schulz

+49 (0)711 722 468 44
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