Successful business in Scandinavia

People in Scandinavia are generally relaxed with each other. In many places people address each other by their first names (with the exception of the Norwegians), and even the dress code tends to be more casual in everyday business than in many other countries.

At the same time, however, a polite distance is usually expected. The Danes, in particular, can seem rather detached and unfriendly when you first meet them. However, this impression is deceptive. On the contrary, after the initial introduction they tend to be more open-hearted. They talk directly and expect honesty from their interlocutor.

Personal questions about family and work are not welcomed in initial conversations. Many Scandinavians also really dislike any kind of superficial squabbling. Even discussions on sensitive topics may be broken off as they arise – in any case at an earlier point in time than would be necessary from the point of view of many business people from abroad who are more eager to debate.

Negotiations with realistic prices

In negotiations, Scandinavians appreciate realistic prices and conditions, which only need a little improvement. Aggressive bargaining and use of pressure will not be welcome. Final decisions are carefully considered and thought over.

The Danes, in particular, are distinguished by their openness in negotiations. They say what they think – and can therefore come across as somewhat undiplomatic. However, they mean what they say. Once a contractual basis has been created, you can be sure that everything will be done in accordance with this agreement.

Decisions can only be made by consensus

Consensus-building is seen in Scandinavia as the only way to make a decision. Scandinavian managers very often pass on pending decisions to the middle management level, which in turn seeks consensus with its employees. Heated debates or decision-making over the heads of others are seen as an unforgivable violation of the community. Social relations are extremely important; the equality of all is practiced.

This means that decisions can also be made at lower levels and it is therefore not sufficient to commit oneself only to the top manager as the discussion and negotiation partner. Even if the foreign managing director of a company meets a Scandinavian middle management manager, the latter may be authorized to make the relevant decisions after consultation with colleagues and superiors. Technical knowledge therefore often eclipses hierarchical position.

Sincerity and honesty are two values that are highly valued in Scandinavian business culture. Both people and things should be trustworthy. For this reason, Scandinavians are always impressed if your company can demonstrate a long corporate tradition. This makes it easier for the Scandinavians to trust their new business partners.

Swedish obsession with detail

The Swedes in particular are extremely obsessed with detail. Projects are carefully planned and follow a strict structure. It follows that in Sweden many, many meetings are necessary to get a joint project off the ground. In the first meeting, new foreign partners are usually put through their paces. Subsequent meetings follow a strict agenda and focus on the various project details. Decisions are rarely made in meetings. Rather, the purpose of meetings is to provide mutual information and confirmation of what has been agreed upon so far. Your presentations should therefore always be based on facts, informative and never protracted.

Social relationships are important

According to studies by the Dutch cultural scientist Geert Hofstede, Scandinavian countries are “feminine” cultures, i.e. the well-being of the individual and social relationships are held very high as cultural values. Managers maintain good relationships with their employees; they are more like team leaders than superiors. Team members work very independently despite an extremely high willingness to work in teams and there is little competition between individual team members. The performance achieved is always due to all team members. All are equal and should be treated equally. When it comes to politeness, international business people on a business trip to Scandinavia should greet porters in the same friendly way as they would the CEO of the partner company.

Scandinavians tend to feel uncomfortable if they are placed above others. It is also not really possible to distinguish hierarchical positions in everyday life: managers can always be reached and are directly consulted if there is a problem. Their main task is to provide the teams with information and to coordinate the decision-making and work processes. New ideas are always developed together with everyone. Everyone is invited to say what they think and put forward their ideas – even if the final decision may ultimately lie with a team of managers. Apart from that, people like to work for themselves and don’t want to be monitored at work. This mix of teamwork and individualism reflects the fact that the individual’s initiative coupled with the team’s performance is highly valued in the Scandinavian business culture.

Leisure time is just as important as work

Leisure time and family life are cherished and a “sacrifice of one’ s personal life”, as is often the case in companies around the world, is rather rare. To be found in the office after work is less a sign of diligence and commitment than of a lack of ability to complete the tasks assigned in a reasonable amount of time.

Katrin Koll Prakoonwit

+49 (0)711 722 468 44
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