Swedish Business Etiquette – An Overview for Your Next Business Trip
Think about business etiquette in a different culture. It’s likely your mind goes to a faraway country, where everything is wildly different than in your home country. This is very common. Most people rarely think of neighboring countries when considering different business cultures. The same counts for individual countries within the EU. For some, the EU is just one large union of countries. But this doesn’t mean there’s no individual approaches to doing business in each of these countries. Each country has its own unique traditions, customs, and perspectives on what constitutes a good business relationship. In fact, you don’t have to go very far to encounter a wildly different business culture. This is why we’re staying closer to home in today’s article about business etiquette. We’re going to delve into the wonderful Scandinavian country of Sweden!
The dress code
The right outfit is often the first challenge. Meeting international business contacts face-to-face for the first time often raises that age-old question: what am I going to wear? In Sweden, the subscribed style is “simple and elegant”. Keep this in mind when you select your outfit. Opt for monochrome pieces, preferably in subtle colors such as gray, black and white. Swedish business people often wear these colors, so you will fit right in with your business partners. At a meeting, traditional business attire is the norm. Outside of these meetings, however, your outfit can be slightly more casual. Just avoid wearing your favorite pink shirt with the leopard print and you are good to go!
Personal space, both in the physical and social sense, is very valuable to many Swedes. Swedes generally prefer others to keep their distance. Try to keep about one arm’s length between you. This will ensure that your conversation partner is comfortable. We also recommend refraining from physical interactions such as giving them a pat on the back or, God forbid, a hug. A handshake, however, is appropriate before and after the meeting. Just keep in mind what the regulations regarding COVID-19 are in Sweden when you travel.
The concept of personal space also extends to the home. Swedes like to keep their private life private. When small talk is held (if it is held – Swedish people are not partial to casual chitchat), the conversation should not discuss their personal lives. Avoid topics such as family, lifestyle, and personal beliefs. Try to focus on more general topics that won’t potentially offend your conversation partner. Also try to refrain from expressing your own emotions too strongly. Though some might interpret this attitude as cold, the Swedes simply keep a strict division between business and pleasure. The best attitude to help the business proceedings run smoothly is to appear professional, objective, and calm.
Before and during the meeting, there are a few things you should consider:
1. Plan your meeting well in advance.
Aim to plan a business meeting at least two weeks in advance. Avoid months like July when most people are on holiday. Preferred meeting times are between 09:00 and 10:00, or between 14:00 and 16:00. Breakfast meetings and meetings after 16:00 are usually not appreciated, as this time is reserved for the family.
2. Be punctual.
Just like the stereotypical German person, the Swedes value punctuality. This applies to the meeting itself, but also to the preparations before the meetings. Be sure to keep to your agreements.
3. Prepare yourself well.
Although Swedish business people generally speak English very well in conversation, it is important that you provide them with written documents as well. This will enable your business partners to analyze everything again once the meeting is over, and pay special attention to the details. To make sure that everything is in good order and easy to understand, always aim to support any claims you make in the document with evidence and statistics.
4. Be clear and precise – but not confrontational.
Many people in Sweden are rather reserved. Therefore, they don’t appreciate aggressive confrontations. If you find yourself in a tense discussion, take a minute to respect and think about the idea or opinion that is being suggested to you. If you disagree with your conversation partner, you can of course tell them. But use a gentle approach. Explain your perspective in in a calm and appropriate way so as not to damage the relationship with your business partner.
The Swedish Business Hierarchy
In the Swedish business hierarchy, equality is a key concept. Everyone’s opinion is respected and considered equally valid. The main objective is to always reach a consensus. This, combined with the fact that meetings often do not have an appointed chairperson, makes the decision-making process a little slower than you might be used to. Instead of expecting immediate results, you should give your business partners the time they need – and you may have to show you’re willing to compromise.
These were the most important aspects of Swedish business etiquette that you should consider during your business trip. But as an added bonus we would like to introduce you to two more concepts that are “typically Swedish”!
1. Fika – the essential coffee break
Swedes love their coffee break – although the term “coffee break” might be an understatement. “Fika” is a daily event at which the employees of a company meet for a coffee. These are often accompanied by delicious (and often home-made) pastries such as cinnamon rolls. Fika can be arranged in a variety of ways – with or without food, and with different employees. But one thing remains the same: it is not just a quick coffee break before you return to your desk. It is a moment to take a break from work, to talk to and exchange ideas with colleagues and friends, and just to relax before the working day continues.
2. Lagom – just the right amount
Fika can be seen as an example of the Swedish principle of “Lagom”. Lagom means that all things should be balanced. It often refers specifically to the work-life balance. Take the Fika for example; you work hard before and after the coffee break, but during the Fika you take a moment to relax. This is the reason why Swedes are reluctant to schedule meetings before 09:00 and after 16:00 – these times are reserved for family and friends.
We hope we helped you expand your knowledge about the Swedish business etiquette. Here’s to making your next meeting in Sweden a success! However, if you would like more information or if you are already one step ahead and need a translation into Swedish, please do not hesitate to contact us! We are always happy to help you.
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