LivingTravelCultural tips for doing business in Sweden

Cultural tips for doing business in Sweden

Scandinavia can be a great place to visit for business, regardless of which country you are heading to. But it is important to note that there may be a cultural difference! Business travelers heading to a country like Sweden should make sure they are not surprised by some of the standard cultural differences and customs that they may encounter.

To better understand all the nuances and cultural tips that can help a business traveler heading to Sweden, I interviewed Gayle Cotton, author of Say Anything to Anyone, Anywhere: 5 Keys to Successful Cross-Cultural Communication. Ms. Cotton is an expert on cultural differences and a distinguished speaker and recognized authority on cross-cultural communication. She is also the President of Circles Of Excellence Inc. and has appeared on many television shows, including NBC News, BBC News, PBS, Good Morning America, PM Magazine, PM Northwest, and Pacific Report.

Ms. Cotton was happy to share tips with readers to help business travelers avoid potential cultural issues when traveling.

What advice do you have for business travelers heading to Sweden?

  • When doing business in Sweden, keep in mind that it is a caring culture, where quality of life and environmental issues are highly emphasized.
  • They shake hands when arriving and departing. It is done quickly and firmly, and smiling communication or other non-verbal communication usually does not accompany it, especially if it has not been previously known.
  • The Swedish business approach is more formal than informal, so no chewing gum, hunching over, or leaning against things.
  • Keep your emotions to a minimum as a cool, calm and practical approach is preferred. Swedes are also somewhat quiet, so speak in a moderate and moderate tone of voice.
  • Swedes are proud people, but they never boast. While they respect someone with established knowledge and experience, you should never flaunt it. Instead, show them by being well-prepared, detail-oriented, and logically organized, which is important for Swedes to embrace an outside idea.
  • Facts and figures are crucial and must be clearly described and detailed. Swedes emphasize the content of a presentation, not its color or flashy appearance.
  • Swedish education teaches them to think conceptually and analytically, so they often look for universal rules or laws to solve problems.
  • The first business meeting will probably be low-key, and the Swedes will evaluate you, your company, and your proposal. Confirm all meetings in advance and never abruptly change the time and place.
  • Swedes believe in speed so it’s important to be on time or it could be taken as a sign of disrespect or lack of interest. They also strictly follow the scheduled start and end times of a meeting.
  • Swedes are well dressed in fashion, and for business, a more conservative dress is appropriate for men in suits and ties, and women in suits or dresses. Subdued colors are a better option than bold colors.
  • Sincerity and seriousness, rather than friendship, are the preferred business attitudes. Compliments in public are generally not given unless they apply to the entire group. There is no individualized element of competition or wanting to stand out.
  • Swedes tend to get down to business with little or no talk. In conversation, it is important to maintain eye contact as much as possible.
  • Swedes are very comfortable with long pauses and silence in conversation, so it would be a mistake to hastily try to fill in pauses.
  • The Swedish sense of humor is unique and sometimes not everyone understands it. Humor is not typically used in serious meetings or negotiations.
  • Swedes will avoid discussing sensitive topics, especially with visitors. If you start such an argument, a Swede may stop you abruptly.

5 key talking points or gesture tips

  • Eye contact is very important to indicate your sincerity and attention.
  • It is helpful to show an understanding of Swedish things, especially those that distinguish Swedes from the Scandinavian cultures of Finland, Norway, and Denmark.
  • Swedes love nature and the great outdoors, so talk about anything related to Sweden’s natural beauty or sports, like hockey and soccer.
  • Swedes enjoy discussing philosophy, arts, travel, current events, and even politics if you are not critical of Sweden’s socialized structure.
  • There is great pride in the local regions of Sweden, so it is appreciated when you know something about the specific region you are visiting.

5 key conversation topics or gesture taboos

  • Asking personal questions or talking about family unless brought up at some point in your relationship.
  • Don’t be superficial in any way, and avoid personally complimenting someone you just met.
  • Avoid any ostentation or flaunting of your rank, status, success, or income. The Swedes are very discreet about this.
  • Don’t use a lot of superlatives when speaking, because Swedes are opposed to stretching the truth in any way.
  • Swedes don’t like complainers, so even when things seem slow or process-controlled, it’s best not to show signs of impatience.

What is important to know about the decision-making or negotiation process?

  • Decision-making can fall into the middle or lower parts of the hierarchy in Sweden, and there is an emphasis on teamwork and commitment.
  • Consensus is valued, and Swedes will try to avoid confrontation because they never want to personally offend someone.
  • Negotiations in Sweden can take time, but once an agreement has been finalized and signed, you can be sure that the Swedes will keep their responsibility.

Any advice for women?

Women and men are treated as equals in Sweden, so decision makers are expected to be of both sexes.

Any advice on gestures?

  • Swedes prefer to stay a little further apart in their interactions than some cultures, and rather than relying on non-verbal forms of communication, it is better to keep body language and hand gestures to a minimum,
  • With the exception of the handshake, Swedes don’t have a lot of physical contact, so avoid slapping, hugging, or touching.


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