Meeting etiquette

Sweden flagImportance of business meetings

Meetings are expected to commence at the agreed time, and will normally start and end with a handshake. Being on time is important not only in business life but in social life as well. Punctuality symbolizes respect and efficiency in Sweden. The notion of the schedule must be well respected from the beginning to the end of the meeting. Swedes are keen to make plans and schedules. It is not surprising to see deadlines set during meetings.

The notions of equality and consensus are also very common in business meetings. Make sure that everyone participates in the decision and that no direct confrontations occur.

It is seen as a matter of course that meetings proceed according to a written agenda and that they result in a written summary recording the most important decisions and agreements. It is important to keep to the promises made at the meetings. Tasks agreed on should be accomplished in time. This will maintain and increase your credibility and build trust, which is an essential condition for any business relationship.

Business meeting planning

You should make the arrangements for your business meetings in good time. Making the appointment at least two weeks in advance is recommended. Changes at the last minute are not appreciated. When a meeting is organized in Sweden it is common to receive a confirmation in advance.

The best time to set up a meeting is certainly not at the beginning of the day. The ideal times are 9:00 to 10:00 a.m. and 2:00 to 4:00 p.m. Changing the time and place at short notice would be a mistake and not appreciated. Swedes treasure their leisure time, most of which is spent with the family. Business partners should not therefore, routinely expect to meet with their Swedish counterparts after 4 p.m. on weekdays. Refrain from scheduling meetings in the months of June, July, or August, as well as in late February through to early March since these are popular times for Swedes to go on holiday. During the Christmas holidays many Swedish business people are also unavailable. (See section Holidays.)

Send an agenda prior to any meeting. At the beginning of meetings small talk is brief and courteous. You will notice when doing business in Sweden that the Swedes are reasonably relaxed, informal and tolerant yet expect professional standards of behavior. Being good humored is acceptable but as with the Finns, being humorous should be kept to a minimum. Meetings are always expected to start and end at the agreed time.

Do not expect people to work over weekends, holidays, or vacations, since these times are usually very precious to Swedes. It is however relatively common that a business person will take work home. If your Swedish business partner has given you his/her phone number it is acceptable to make a phone call after official business hours. You should remember however, not to disturb your Swedish business partners outside of office hours on business related matters that are not urgent, wait until the next business day.

Negotiation process

Be well-prepared when entering negotiations with Swedes; as they are known for analyzing information, backgrounds and proposals carefully. It is recommended that you provide your Swedish business partner with lots of information in writing to go through and study. Make sure your presentation is factual and well -organized. Swedes are known for their ability to secure good deals without making enemies. They cherish dialogue and the idea of democracy and it is normal to discuss subjects in detail in order to reach an agreement. Due to the consensus-forming aspect of Swedish culture, many meetings are sometimes necessary to reach agreement on even minor points. Swedes often hide their true feelings, and the lack of a clear leader in meetings can result in confusion. They will often state their ‘fair’ price up front, and be unwilling to negotiate further. They are often extremely informal in address, but display very little emotion in business dealings. When you are negotiating with a Swedish partner, make sure that you do not come across as being too emotional since showing too much emotion during a negotiation can be a mistake and create a bad impression. The use of humor is not usual behavior during the negotiations – this is serious business. It is also important to take into consideration payment terms. In business to business, Swedes are used to being paid within 30 days and all prices are in SEK.

A partner from a different culture may find it difficult to negotiate with the Swedes, the main obstacle being trying to change their position towards making major concessions. They are methodical and detailed people, slow to change their positions and they will push hard for concessions themselves. To do business with Swedes it is important to be honest and all agreements must be written and signed since Swedes consider a written contract as a memorandum of understanding as well as being proof of a deal.

Meeting protocol

Handshakes (with men and women) are the accepted form of greeting. Greet all participants with firm handshakes and direct eye contact both on arrival and departure. Unlike in the United States, men do not stand when a woman enters or leaves a room. Business cards are usually exchanged when meeting for the first time but there is no special etiquette as to how this should be done. A Swedish handshake is brief and firm, and involves no supporting gestures such as touching the shoulder or upper arm. Between men and women the handshake is a lot lighter. If wearing gloves, remove them before shaking hands. 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 greeted by shaking hands, too. Swedish people are quite reserved and thus any expression of feelings should be kept to a minimum so as not to cause any embarrassment but a smile is always welcome.

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How to run a business meeting

The agenda for your meeting should be circulated in advance and you can expect it to be adhered to. The Swedes are punctual. They do not believe in hierarchy and will not respect it in their business dealings (indeed, this is the only area in which they refuse to compromise). They are easy-going, flexible and patient in negotiations, and are good listeners. They are known for their ability to secure good deals without making enemies. When running a meeting, it is important to remember that the Swedes tend to be matter of fact and businesslike in all aspects. Business meetings might start off with some small-talk but not necessarily. Being relaxed and good humored is viewed positively, but steer clear of cracking jokes. Modesty and sticking to the facts are qualities that are appreciated.

Swedes do not appreciate wasting time. The chair of the meeting should take care that it keeps to time without hurrying and sticks to the agenda. Everyone should have an opportunity to express their opinion. The Swedish boss is there to coordinate the decision making process, share information and give direction, and decisions must be made by group consensus. This takes time, and often several meetings are needed in order to reach an agreement. A secretary is usually appointed for the meeting to take the minutes which will then be circulated after the meeting and any actions arising from the meeting will be followed up by an appointed person.

Virtually all Swedish business people have a good knowledge of English and interpreters are rarely required. The availability and need for any audiovisual equipment for your meeting should be checked in advance.

Follow up letter after meeting with client

The minutes of the meeting will be circulated afterwards and all important tasks and deadline dates should be stated there. Often, individuals who have been delegated tasks and actions will also be stated in the minutes. The participants are expected to work independently and to then report their accomplishments back to whoever is in charge.

It is important, in order to maintain credibility, that items are followed up and completed in the timescales agreed. If items are not followed, it may affect the attendance at future meetings. In cases where for some reason it is not possible to keep to what was agreed on, all parties involved should be informed about the delays. An agreement in Sweden is considered to be active when articulated for the first time although it might have not yet been confirmed in writing. Remember that open confrontation, conflict and disagreements should be avoided whenever possible.

Business meals

Lunch is the most common mealtime during which to conduct business negotiations in Sweden. Longer and socially more intimate dinners offer a good opportunity to get to know your business partners and to develop relationships that in the long run are always an important underpinning for your subsequent business encounters.

Breakfast meetings are uncommon in Sweden as Swedes usually have breakfast at home with their families. Lunchtime is between 11.30 am and 1.30 pm and the Swedes do not like spending more than one hour for lunch. It is recommended to go to formal restaurants with your partner and you should make a table reservation in advance. A less formal restaurant lunch usually includes a main course, salad, bread and coffee at a very reasonable price. Another option for lunch is an open-faced sandwich containing a rich assortment of ingredients such as meats, cheeses, and vegetables. Alcohol is seldom consumed during lunch. Generally speaking, business meals are not the place to reach and sign an agreement. Spouses can also be invited along to meals although not at lunch time. Smoking is prohibited in Swedish restaurants.

Swedes are very hospitable and sometimes might invite you to visit their homes even during the week, although this would normally happen at the weekend. Usually invitations will be sent out weeks in advance as the event has to be planned. Be sure to arrive promptly and go with a gift. Fine chocolates, a bottle of wine, or flowers for the hostess all make good gifts. If invited to dinner it is important to be on time regardless of whether you are invited to a restaurant or to your business partner’s home. Dinner is usually served from 6 p.m. to 7:30 pm in Swedish homes. At weekends, dinner parties often start at 8 o’clock. The traditional Swedish dinner has four courses: fish, meat, salad, and dessert. Drinks served with dinner are usually regional beers or wine.

Swedish cuisine is similar to that of Denmark and Norway in being traditionally simple and satisfying, and nowadays also healthy. The Swedish countryside is rich in natural resources; ingredients from nature – berries, fish, mushrooms and game – are widely used. The interest in healthy eating has boosted the consumption of vegetarian food among Swedes and therefore it is not difficult to follow a vegetarian or vegan diet in Sweden. In the last few decades, immigrants from all over the world have enriched Swedish food culture with a host of exciting dishes. Sweden is one of the highest consumers of coffee in the world and milk consumption is also very high.

Tipping is rarely expected in Sweden, but it is not completely unusual. A service charge is included on most hotel and restaurant bills, but a small gratuity (between 5 and 10 percent) is appropriate for evening meals at restaurants. If you buy a drink at the bar and pay directly, it’s generally appreciated if you leave any small coins from the change on the bar.

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Business meetings tips

Before doing business in a foreign country it is advisable to know some facts of the country and its culture. For example, it is useful to have an idea of Sweden’s economy, its high standard of living, the sports performances, the architecture and the history of the country. It is important to remember that Swedes are very proud of their country and so you should not criticize or question the Swedish life style. Avoid superficiality in conversation as Swedes consider lightly given compliments as being insincere.

In Sweden, businesswomen are equal to men and as a result they have more opportunities and latitude than in some other countries, e.g. they can pay the bill at a restaurant or invite a male business partner to dinner without any problems or awkwardness.

Most Swedish business people have good English skills and so interpreters are rarely needed.

Important to know for North Americans is that in Sweden the dates are written in the following way: the day first, then the month, then the year [e.g. October 21, 2012, is written 21.10.12.].

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