You should always make a formal appointment if you wish to meet your Finnish counterparts. It is recommended to make the appointment at least a fortnight ahead. When setting up a meeting with the managers of the company, the best way is probably to arrange it with his / her secretary or PA.
Punctuality and factual debate are appreciated by the Finns. The form and style of meetings varies between companies and is dependent on their corporate culture. Finns are mostly modest, low-key and factual – and expect others to be the same. Meetings tend to be brief and to the point. Everyone is expected to enter the meeting well prepared. Finns are very straightforward in their speech and actions and mean what they say. Sometimes Finnish frankness may seem a bit tactless! It is important to keep to the promises made at the meetings and follow up actions and tasks should be accomplished to deadline. This will maintain and increase your credibility in a culture where trust is an essential condition for any business relationship.
Business meeting planning
Business meetings are often set up by e-mail or SMS-message. For more formal meetings, a notice of meeting is usually delivered by mail two weeks in advance. In the invitation the time and place of the meeting as well as the agenda and participants should be stated. When setting up a meeting, you should also ensure that all the technical equipment and refreshments needed are available at the meeting place. Coffee, tea, soft drinks and biscuits are usually served.
Summer time between mid-June and mid-August should be avoided due to the holidays. Also other holiday times need to be taken into account (for more detailed information see the Holidays section). In some organizations Friday afternoon may also be an unsuitable time for a meeting because people often wish to hurry home to their family right after 4 o’clock.
As Finns are very punctual, they appreciate this quality in others. It is considered as a sign of respect and efficiency. Business negotiations in Finland are often held in offices and business meetings or negotiations in restaurants are very rare. Between or at the end of a meeting it is usual to go for lunch.
Finns do not usually make small talk when negotiating, but tend to get straight to the point. The style of discussion is often factual and intelligent debate is respected. Finns also value a critical attitude and do not hesitate to express their dissenting opinions. This is considered less rude than honest. Criticism is regarded as to do with one’s work and not as a personal attack. It is possible to have fun together immediately afterwards.
Finnish business culture is relatively egalitarian. Great efforts have been made to promote equality between men and women as well as between managers and their subordinates. You may find out in negotiation situations that even junior managers often have considerable independent decision-making authority. This informality facilitates the exchange of ideas and therefore provides plenty of opportunity for new innovations.
When greeting, the parties shake hands, nod their heads and make eye contact. Business cards are usually exchanged when meeting for the first time. There is no special etiquette as to how the business cards should be exchanged. A Finnish handshake is brief and firm, and involves no supporting gestures such as touching the shoulder or upper arm. When greeting a married couple, the wife should be greeted first, except on a formal occasion where the hosts should first be greeted by the spouse to whom the invitation was addressed. Children are also greeted by shaking hands.
Embracing people when greeting them is rare in Finland. Hand-kissing is very rare, although some women find it charming. Friends and acquaintances may hug when meeting, and kisses on the cheek are not entirely unknown, although this habit is not often seen in rural areas. There is no special etiquette regarding the number of kisses on the cheek – however, most Finns feel that three kisses is going a bit far. Men never kiss each other in greeting.
Altogether, Finnish people are quite reserved and thus any expression of feelings should be kept to the minimum not to cause any embarrassment. A smile is always appreciated, though.
How to run a business meeting
The agendas for the meeting should be circulated in advance. At the beginning of meetings small talk is brief or sometimes non-existent. Being good humoured is acceptable but being humorous should be kept to a minimum. Modesty and sticking to facts are the watchwords. The chair of the meeting should take care that the meeting is kept to time and to the agenda.
Finns are modest about their achievements, and you should be the same. Do not expect immediate feedback or a lot of questions. The silence indicates they are thinking about what you have said. Silence in conversations is considered an accepted aspect of social interaction. You should not talk when someone else is talking since interrupting is regarded as rude.
You should be able to make your presentation so comprehensive that no questions are needed to clarify what you have said. Set clear goals, both in meetings and work strategy, and encourage your Finnish counterparts to work independently. The Finns display a great deal of initiative, discipline, stamina and accountability, and expect the same of their business associates. Body language is subtle and negotiating positions often vague and understated. Once the Finns have made a decision, however, they will seldom change it.
Virtually all Finnish business people have a good knowledge of English and interpreters are rarely required.
Follow up letter after meeting with client
The minutes of the meeting will be circulated afterwards. All important tasks and completion dates should be stated there and often the individuals responsible for those tasks will be set out in the minutes. The participants are expected to work independently and report their accomplishments to the persons in charge.
It is important to keep to one’s commitments and to the time-scales agreed upon. In cases when this is not possible, all parties involved should be informed about any problems or delays.
In Finland, breakfast is not a place to conduct business so you will not encounter breakfast meetings. Usually, the most common mealtime to be shared with your business partners is lunch. In Finland, it is appropriate to discuss business during lunch unlike in some cultures where meal times are reserved for non-business related topics. Hardly any alcohol is consumed at lunch time and the busy pace of working life has shortened business lunches to 1-2 hours. Lunch time at restaurants is usually between 11 AM and 2 PM. As the standard of living has risen during recent decades, eating out has become more popular. However, Finns still eat most of their dinners at home with their families. At lunch time, canteen meals in educational institutions and offices are the most usual. Dinner is served between 6 PM and 8 PM as a rule. If invited to dinner it is important to be on time regardless of whether you are invited to restaurant or your business partner’s home. If you are meeting in a private home you should bring flowers, chocolate or a bottle of wine.
The dining etiquette is very much the same in Finland as in most of other European countries. Table manners are Continental. The best rule for most situations is to use common sense, general dining manners and simply following the host’s / hostess’s lead. The same guidelines apply to dining at a restaurant or in someone’s home.
When in a restaurant, service charges are included in your bill and it is not usual or necessary to leave a tip. However, it is not unheard of to leave a tip in the more expensive restaurants. Bills in restaurants are seldom split. If you make the invitation, you should also pay. A foreign businesswoman may invite a Finnish man to dinner and pay without any difficulty. Smoking in public buildings and workplaces is prohibited and in restaurants there are separate areas for smokers and non-smokers.
The Finns appreciate fine cuisine, but consume it in moderation. Gastronomic delights and healthy habits go hand in hand. Finnish cuisine is a mixture of European, Scandinavian and Russian dishes. Ingredients from nature – berries, fish, mushrooms and game – are widely used and dishes are rarely unfamiliar to western visitors. The Finnish diet has become lighter and healthier in recent times and upmarket restaurants can today cater for a wide variety of dietary requirements.
Coffee drinking is an essential part of Finnish culture. More coffee is drunk per person in Finland than anywhere else in the world. The coffee that most Finns drink is light-roasted and more bitter than coffee drunk in continental Europe.
When it comes to alcohol, Finnish drinking habits mainly follow Scandinavian and European practices. Alcohol consumption varies by social group – also somewhat by generation or region. In some groups consumption is influenced more by a Mediterranean lifestyle, in some more by Slavic lifestyle.
Business meetings tips
It is recommended that you dress smartly for business meetings, particularly on the first occasions. After that, you can adjust your dress code to that of your Finnish counterparts. In the case of more official meetings, the invitation will indicate if the occasion demands a black tie. The dress code is usually stated on invitations for business dinners.
Do not be surprised if the conversation is formal during the first minutes of a meeting with no small talk. Finns may seem a bit distant to start with, but usually the atmosphere will thaw out later on -once you get to know a Finn, a bond of friendship and trust is likely to emerge.
Finns are quite cautious and wish to keep up appearances and protect their privacy. You should not show any strong emotions in public or behave in too gregarious a way. Never ask personal questions, such as those related to someone’s religion, job or political party.