24 Jul Doing business with Sweden. Cultural differences in business.

Despite the geographical proximity to its northern neighbour, Swedish forms of work and leadership are different from those we know in Poland. A significant difference can also be noticed in the Swedish mentality and style of negotiations.  Sharp criticism of the Swedish partner or lack of emotional response might become an obstacle that can’t be removed. If you wish to start business with a partner from Sweden, you should pay  attention to business ethics. To have success, you should show your intercultural competence as well as be well- prepared and informed about the rules of the market and of signing contracts.

Swedes are considered to be polite businessmen with a relatively easy temper. Informal style of communication is a basic element of business working style in Sweden. It is better to not exaggerate by using titles, as well as using official and expanded names of the functions or positions performed by the Swedish partner. Unless you follow this advice, your partner might feel uncomfortable instead of feeling honored. As a result, building your business relations will not be successful!

Voice of the team

A strong egalitarian approach to business has caused  formal and hierarchical structures in Sweden to be replaced by  functional team work. A modern and collegiate style of leadership and action dominates here. Our northern neighbours prefer team work. Although a leader, as in every culture, has a leading role, all important decisions are made together in the team. In most cases, it is different from the way of doing business in Poland. Polish businessmen might regard Swedish managers as slow and indecisive and consequently, it may turn out to be a big mistake… A good Swedish leader or manager is not a person that makes quick and accurate decisions – it is more the one who asks the right  people relevant questions and takes into account all the voices in the team!

Swedish employees are perceived as equal to the manager and often have more freedom in their actions – as well as more responsibilities  – than in other countries. Due to this, there is a lot of  independence and freedom when planning and completing tasks . On the Swedish agenda, there are daily consultations and meetings of the working groups where decisions are made after a consensus is reached.

A consensus is a result of a common discussion where everyone can share their position, learn the needs and the ideas of the others and finally, create a solution which would be appropriate for everybody. This type of a solution is much better and much more satisfying than a compromise where everyone  can refuses if some one’s ideas in order to reach a common point. Reaching a consensus is not a trivial task – do not be surprised if it takes much more time than you expect. There is a piece of advice for impatient Polish partners (we may be viewed like this in Sweden): give more time to your partner for making a decision, especially if it is an important one. Do not press, although surely keep in touch to find out what stage in the process of building a consensus they are at. Perhaps we might suggest a possible constructive idea or solution? Swedes tend to s search for better solutions, so they are open to new ideas, which consequently influences international competitiveness. They demonstrate an ability to adapt to new circumstances and use new technologies. A solution which has been suggested by all the sides will be much more stable, less challenged and more likely to be implemented by the whole team.

Time is… respect

The Swedes present an honest attitude to work. They are considered to be diligent cosmopolitans. They are efficient and systematic in work and moreover, conscious of the meaning of the agenda. Usually they keep to deadlines. Punctuality for a Swede is an expression of reliability and respect to the business partner. They assume that their partner has the same values. Another reason for keeping the deadlines is to strive to optimize time and thus gain more free time which the Swedes are happy to spend with their families.

While in Poland there may be  nothing wrong with  shifting  deadlines, in Sweden they must be respected. If a meeting is arranged at 9:00, it means that the Swedes will be at the place a couple of minutes earlier in order to have a cup of coffee and  have informal small talk and afterwards to start their work exactly at 9:00. An academic quarter takes no effect here. The meeting is set to end at 10:00 which means exactly the same – there is no way to extend it because our Swedish partner has definitely already arranged something else after our meeting that they need to arrive earlier to as well

Postponing deadlines in Sweden might also be problematic because our partner’s timetable might be filled well in advance – thus we should consider that the next meeting mightnot happen as soon as we would like. Besides that, there is no need to confirm the meeting even if it has been arranged several weeks before. The meeting that has been arranged which means it will take place!


Taking this approach into consideration mean that  an appropriate plan of the meeting is always kindly sent prior to the meeting – so let’s prepare a detailed and realistic (but not optimistic!) agenda. Whether it is a review of the materials of the company, a discussion about the views of each side or a coffee-break – everything must have a place on the agenda. You should remember that a business meeting is treated in Sweden as an occasion for an information exchange to make a decision afterwards and not for small talk – an appropriate time for that is during a coffee break.

In Poland so-called small talk takes place quite often which might not satisfy our neighbours, for whom this kind of conversation will probably be unnecessary. Conducting a discussion with Swedes requires more attention to longer pauses in the conversation and the silence, which is not considered to be embarrassing, and must not be filled with senseless questions about weather. On the contrary – this is the silence which allows us to analyze our thoughts and evaluate the situation, so it is an important element of a meeting.

I will trust you after I know you

Unlike in Poland, in Sweden people are not likely to show their emotions both in business and in personal life. They come across as distanced, hard-headed and sober-minded people. Swedes value peace, self-reliance and independence. That is why at the beginning of the contact, it is better to avoid too much familiarity. Too emotional or brisk moves are not accepted in Sweden and may cause difficulties in the relationship. Trust and good relationships are built not by personal stories about problems with your son, but by acting calm and by being honest and punctual.

Swedes appreciate what you say and do not interrupt the speaker. Verbal agreement for them have the same power as  written ones, so remember the important value of the words. Our Swedish partners might be perplexed by the number of documents we usually present them for reading and signing. From their point of view, a verbal agreement is equal to a written contract, so an official stamp is unnecessary.

If possible, it is better to avoid controversial topics during a discussion and to remember that lengthy persuasion, spectacular gestures, complacency or intensified treatment to advertise will only generate greater skepticism. At the same time, if you start your business with the Swedes, be aware of their business etiquette: do not interrupt while they are speaking. Courteous „thank you” and „please” will definitely have a positive impact on the business relationship as well.

Authors: Barbara Bartczak, Monika Chutnik

*The article is a part of SPCC’s publication “Direction Scandinavia. Business in Denmark, Finland, Sweden and Norway”.

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