Icelanders’ way of doing business might be quite different in many ways from what businessmen and women experience in other countries. Business meetings are viewed positively but what might be a surprise for foreigners is that sometimes meetings turn out to be more informal than what was expected. Business and pleasure are often mixed and therefore sometimes business meetings might be less effective than a foreign business man or woman had hoped for. Of course this is not always the case although some businessmen and women have experienced having been invited to Icelandic homes to talk business but when they arrived, the presence of friends or family members has made it hard to get the focus on business related matters.
It is good to make contact with Icelandic business partners in advance about the program for the visit. However, sometimes Icelanders are known for their tendency to be indecisive and leave their decisions until the last minute. One should not be too worried when interim decisions are made as this is a part of the Icelandic culture.
Business meeting planning
Make sure to arrive promptly at the set time or even before it. One should be prepared to start the meeting at the agreed time. If there are PowerPoint presentations or other things that have to be prepared, one should take that into account when arriving for meetings and allow extra time.
Icelanders value honesty, directness and keeping ones word. So when negotiating you should not avoid bringing up anything that concerns you. It is quite normal to leave decisions to the last minute as Icelanders might be unwilling to commit to big decisions. This kind of behaviour may jeopardise a business agreement if Icelanders appear to be playing for time just in case a better deal comes along.
One should always make sure to shake hands with Icelandic business partners at the beginning and at the end of the business meeting. It is recommended that the handshake is firm, eye contact is made and no one is left without a handshake. It is also common to exchange business cards when meeting business acquaintances.
How to run a business meeting
The good news for foreign businessmen and women is that Icelanders speak English fluently and are able to conduct business in the language without any problem. Formal business meetings are concise and aim to deal effectively with the matter at hand. However, Icelanders also like to combine business with pleasure and may ask a visitor to visit their home to talk business. This may feel like a waste of time to a non- Icelander, as most of the time might be spent on non-business related conversation with the host’s family or friends being present. Icelanders are known for their way of relating to even relatively unknown persons as friends which is nice, but can sometimes come across as rather unprofessional.
Follow up letter after meeting with client
When it comes to following up after a meeting you can expect the same as in any other Nordic country. The decisions made in a meeting should be recorded and the document given to all participants of the meeting. This record includes information on action plans, what was agreed on and who is responsible for implementing various parts of plans. A record should also be kept of what was discussed, and the dates items were agreed to be completed by. Credibility is always gained when items are followed up and completed at the agreed time. As usual in the Icelandic culture, there is nearly always a place for socializing, which means that it is appropriate to invite your business associates out for a drink. This may be a good time to get to know each other more and build up a better relationship.
Icelanders tend to talk business over meals and combining work and pleasure is common. Icelanders often leave their shoes at the door when going home and one should follow that example when visiting an Icelandic home. Bringing a gift is highly recommended, for example foreign wine.
The good news for visitors is that although Iceland’s high prices might suggest strict dining rules, the Icelandic dining tradition is based on family dining and is therefore rather informal. It is still recommended to have sophisticated manners and to try and follow Icelandic dining customs however. If you are used to dining in other Nordic countries and in Europe, then dining in Iceland should not present any problems at all. Wrists should be resting on the table while keeping hands visible and the fork should be held in the left hand while the knife is held in the right. Throwing away food is frowned upon. If you are sharing dishes, it is recommended to ask others for their permission before emptying the plate of the remaining food.
There are no specific dress codes in restaurants but one should remember that Icelanders dress well and this is especially the case when they go out to eat in the evening.
Iceland has a reputation for having some of the world’s finest restaurants. Reykjavik especially is known for restaurants with exceptionally high standards of both service and food. When visiting Iceland, make sure that eating out is included in the program. Some courses recommended for visitors are Icelandic lamb and arctic fish. Recently the Iceland dining trend has been developing in a direction where international dishes made out of Icelandic ingredients have been gaining popularity but there are still plenty of restaurants serving traditional Icelandic food.
As Iceland is isolated from other countries, the culture has been shaped so that Icelanders produce whatever they consume. Icelanders still harvest most of their food’s ingredients including berries, mushrooms, fish, lamb and reindeer from their own land.
The most popular drinks in Iceland are much the same as everywhere else. Icelanders enjoy water, milk, wine, beer, carbonated drinks and naturally also coffee and tea.
Whale meat that is banned in some countries is legal in Iceland, so when visiting Iceland you must check if it is legal to take whale meat back to your home country should you wish to do so.
Icelandic prices, both in restaurants and in general, might be an unwelcome surprise. Iceland has a population of only 320 000 which means that the market is small and there is not too much competition. In addition to this, employment costs are very high. Luckily tipping is not expected in Iceland as the service fees are included in the bill.
Business meetings tips
Icelanders often ask visitors how they like Iceland. Be prepared to give a short and positive comment on their extraordinary country.