Planning a business trip to Sweden? In addition to having all of your travel details and official documents in order, it’s important to know business etiquette and other cultural rules. Don’t expect your Swedish colleagues to tell you! Swedes tend to avoid confrontation, so you may never know that you lost that business deal because you offended someone. Here are some of the most important things to know:
- Sweden has a king, but it’s a ceremonial position. The country is really run by a popularly elected government.
- Sweden has one of the highest standards of living – and one of the highest tax rates – in the world. Government programs provide childcare, maternity/paternity leave, sick leave, pensions, and a ceiling on health care costs.
- Sweden is part of the European Union, but they have not adopted the Euro. They use their native currency, the Krona (SEK).
Business dress in Sweden tends to be somewhat casual within a workplace and a little more formal when meeting with businesspeople from outside the company. “More formal” means a suit for men and, for women, either a suit or a blouse with a skirt or pants. If you’ll be working in a Swedish office on a long-term basis, start out dressing formally, and then adopt the style of your co-workers. In general, clothes should be of high quality, but not flashy.
- Meetings start – and end – on time. Being late by even a few minutes is a big faux pas.
- If being late is unavoidable, call and let someone know.
- Meetings usually follow a written agenda. If agenda items have been assigned a time slot, expect to stick to those times.
- Brief small talk is typical, but not to the point where it takes away in from efficiency. Expect to move quickly from chitchat to the first agenda item.
- Action items will probably be officially assigned to a meeting participant.
- Discussion may be lengthy, as Swedes tend to come to a consensus rather than having the highest-ranking person make the decisions.
- Swedish colleagues will typically follow up the meeting with a written summary that includes assignments of action items.
- Verbal agreements are considered to be as binding as legal contracts. Don’t say you’ll do something if you don’t mean it.
Hierarchy is not especially important in Sweden. Most people use first names, even with people whom they’ve just met. No one is ostentatious: if you do have high status, you don’t broadcast it. And, unlike the U.S. and some other countries, where everyone is used to waiting for the “boss” to show up, in Sweden, the boss is expected to be as punctual as anyone else.
Mind your manners
Like any culture, Sweden has its own system of things you do and things you don’t do. Here are a few:
- Arguing is not culturally acceptable. If a disagreement is starting to become heated, don’t be surprised if someone changes the subject.
- Don’t exaggerate or overstate anything. Just stick to the facts.
- Swedes value privacy. Even during pre-meeting chit chat, steer away from personal topics like position, income, and family matters.
- Egalitarianism and tolerance are highly valued. Don’t make any comments that could be construed as racist, sexist, or classist.
- Swedes tend to have a lot of national pride and may be offended by any perceived criticism of their country.
Sweden is a modern country in all senses of the word. They eschew hierarchical rules and value corporate responsibility. If you mind your manners and refrain from assuming intimacy, you’ll do just fine.