Whether you’re an expat looking to start a business abroad or a salesman traveling abroad, you won’t succeed in Sweden without a clear understanding of its corporate culture. While many Swedes speak flawless English, they come from a completely different culture than individuals raised in the UK, Canada, or the United States. In today’s blog, we’ll give you 10 tips that will help you feel more at home in the Swedish business environment.
While meetings in the USA typically start with pleasantries, that’s not the case in Sweden. As they’re not huge fans of wasting time, many Swedes prefer to kick off their business meetings with a dose of business. “In Sweden, you’re always ready to talk business. Etiquette expert Mats Danielsson summed it up pretty well in an interview with The Local: If you’re out at a business lunch in Sweden, don’t be surprised if you start talking business before your food has even arrived,”
People in the United States are used to clearly-defined organizational hierarchies. In their world, front line employees often have limited ability to close and negotiate deals. In Sweden, however, that’s often not the case. As Swedes tend towards flatter organizational structures, there’s a high probability that your low-level sales representative will be the person responsible for closing your deal. Please act accordingly.
Most Swedes deeply value punctuality. As time is very important to them, they have little patience for those who are consistently running late. To ensure you make a good first impression, try your best to arrive to engagements five to ten minutes early. If you can’t get there on time, be sure to let whomever you’re meeting know.
When meeting Swedes for the first time, you should avoid using honorifics like mister and miss. To the Swedish, these titles sound stiff and old-fashioned. Don’t be afraid to address them by their first name. And, by extension, don’t be shocked when they greet you with yours.
In the USA, salesmen tend to come in dressed to impress. But, the Swedish aren’t as obsessed with ties and three-piece suits as people in less egalitarian cultures. For those worried about showing up to an informal meeting in their Sunday Best, Mats Danielsson adds, “It’s also okay to simply ask whoever you’re meeting what dress code to expect. They won’t find the question off-putting.”
According to a recent study by the World Economic Forum, Sweden is one of the best places to be a woman. As sexism in business is rarer than in many other countries, it’s quite common to find women in positions of leadership. Therefore, you should never assume gender in correspondence, and you should be aware of any gender-based differences in your conversation style. If you find any, do your best to eliminate them.
The Swedes tend towards modesty. So much so, in fact, that they have a term for downplaying one’s individual accomplishments: jantelagen. Bragging about your past accomplishments is a quick way to get on a Swede’s bad side. Furthermore, it also makes you look short sighted and self-absorbed. When giving speeches, always make sure to acknowledge everyone’s accomplishments, not just your own.
Cellphones are a common sight in US business meetings. It’s fairly common to see attendees fiddling on their phones while others are talking. While it’s rude to do so in both nations, it’s often a deal killer to the Swedish. If you want to close a deal, be sure to turn your phone off before taking your seat at the conference table.
Swedes are world-renowned for their ability to balance their work and personal lives. Their secret? Setting clear boundaries. Make sure that your proposed appointment times don’t infringe on your coworker’s free time. The Swedes like to schedule meetings in the middle of the workday, as opposed to at the beginning or at the end.
While US business people don’t take numbers seriously until they see them in black and white, that’s not the case with the Swedes. They truly place value on the spoken word and expect you to do the same. This is likely one reason why the Swedish are known for their thorough discussions of deals and contracts.
While everyone is different, the 10 tips outlined above hold true for the majority of Swedes. Just know that blogs like this cannot prepare you for all the difficulties and contingencies of doing business abroad. When you run into an issue your studies haven’t prepared you for, I have a simple piece of advice: just be yourself. The Swedes tend to be a very accommodating and accepting people and will understand if you make a few mistakes. If worse comes to worst, you can just apologize with a good-old fashioned forlat. At the very least, they’ll appreciate the attempt.