In the current era of intensive globalisation, the marketplace is growing at a fast pace. This means expanding business borders and sometimes customising business practices. The subsections that follow give an overview of Sweden’s business practice to give a comprehensive picture of doing business in Sweden.
Regardless of the situation and place, communicating without creating barriers can only be an advantage and bring benefits.
Introductions may be difficult as they depend upon the circumstances of a particular situation. Generally, whenever possible, it is best to be introduced by a third party. When introducing yourself, it is essential to shake hands in a firm manner. However, this is typical mostly for the initial stage of a business encounter and may not be expected at subsequent meetings.
The Swedes are considered friendly and open in discussions but tend to speak only when they have something important to say in other words, there is no necessity to speak if you do not really have anything to contribute.
Swedes tend to call people by their first names regardless of their status. This informality does not necessarily mean familiarity and Swedes often keep their work and personal lives separate.
If you can speak a few words of Swedish, it is a nice gesture if you try to use them. Most Swedes will be pleasantly surprised if you can say something in Swedish (f.ex. greetings ‘hej’ [hello] or ‘hej då’ [goodbye]). Recognize, however, that as soon as you are identified as an English speaker, your Swedish colleagues will probably switch to English.
Swedes keep their body language and hand gestures to a minimum, rather than relying on non-verbal forms of communication. They prefer to maintain some personal space in their interactions so be sure to leave enough distance between you and the person you’re talking to.
Always wait to be introduced to strangers. Shake hands with everyone individually in any group both when being introduced and when departing.
The Swedes understand and speak English very well and children learn it from third grade to secondary school. A second foreign language – such as German, French or Swedish – is very often learned at schools, too.
Foreign movies or TV-programs are not dubbed into Swedish. They are shown with subtitles, which improves foreign language skills.
In the following section you will see some useful phrases in Swedish, which may help you to ‘break the ice’ in informal conversations.
- Bye bye – Hej då
- Cheers – Skål
- Could you help me, please? – Kan du hjälpa mig?
- Do you speak English? – Talar du engelska?
- Goodbye – Adjö
- Good evening – God kväll
- Good morning – God morgon
- Good night – God natt
- Hello, hi – Hej
- How are you? – Hur står det till?
- How much? – Hur mycket?
- How much does this cost? – Vad kostar det här?
- I have to go now. – Jag måste gå nu.
- Let’s go! – Nu går vi!
- My name is… – Jag heter…
- Nice to meet you. – Trevligt att träffas.
- No – Nej
- No thank you – Nej tack
- See you – Vi ses
- See you tomorrow – Vi ses i morgon
- See you tonight – Vi ses i kväll
- Where is… – Var ligger…
- Yes – Ja
Sweden is known for being a culture where no one is put on a pedestal and this is demonstrated in the way Swedes address each other. Regardless of age, social class and sex, Swedes use ‘du’ (you) when speaking to a single person. There is also a polite form to address someone, Ni (Equivalent for German ‘Sie’), but it is considered overly polite these days although elderly people still sometimes use it. When taking to more than one person, ‘Ni’ is still used.
Swedes are informal in form of address but otherwise they may seem a bit reserved and rigid to start with. They have a tendency to keep their private lives separate from their working lives, which has an effect on what are considered appropriate topics of discussion. Swedes also keep expressions of emotion to the minimum in public, which further feeds the impression of rigidity.
Swedish people are quite talkative, at least when compared to their eastern neighbors. The Swedes on average know the English language well and so it should be no problem to get by with English when doing business in the country. This is especially true when it comes to the younger generations.
It is good to remember, that verbal agreements are binding in Sweden. Spoken words are taken seriously and Swedes expect you to acknowledge this. Thus, you should not make any invitations or engagements too lightly. When an agreement is reached and is sealed by a handshake, it is a deal! Of course written contracts are always signed too. Their role is more or less to underwrite the agreement – and of course to act as a legal document in case of conflict.
When negotiating with the Swedes, be prepared for lots of discussion. Swedes are known for their democratic culture in decision making and discussing issues in a thorough way and at length.
A gentle approach must be used in communication. Displays of power, hierarchy or emotion are not condoned. Swedes like planning and procedures, and appreciate this in their counterparts’ communications.
The Swedish communication style is direct and open. It is useful to get directly to the point in order to avoid wasting time. This can appear to be a bit rude but you shouldn’t take it personally. Swedes are good listeners and they expect you to be one too. Instead of interrupting someone, wait for your turn to voice your opinion.
Swedes like to establish relationships on an informal level. However, private and business lives are very much segregated, so this informality does not amount to intimacy. When doing business in Sweden, you can expect to address a person by his/her first name.
To maintain their personal space, Swedes tend to stay relatively far apart when conversing. Personal space is private, so with the exception of the handshake, avoid touching. Handshakes should be swift and firm. Avoid speaking with your hands in your pockets as this is considered rude. Swedes do not use much body language in their communication. When talking with a Swede, make sure to maintain eye contact.
Swedes do not consider titles or the level of education you have achieved something to brag about. At the beginning of relationships, Swedes are quite formal in their conduct until the partners become more familiar. Despite this, they tend to use first names right from the beginning of the relationship.