Swedish Communication Styles

Swedes communicate well in international business situations, helped in no small measure by the generally high levels of English spoken in the country.

The international nature of many Swedish businesses makes it essential for any ambitious Swede to have a good knowledge of the world business language.

However, as with all non-native speakers of English, Swedes take into the second language their own approach to communication matters. As with many northern European countries, directness is prized more highly than diplomacy. The search for consensus and agreement does not preclude the use of direct debate – in fact, it makes it absolutely necessary. The result of this respect for plain speaking is that Swedes can be seen as rude or at least overly abrupt by those cultures which place diplomacy before direct speaking. Cultures as diverse as the UK and Japan are often taken aback by the apparent contradiction of a culture which professes to seek consensus and negotiated compromise whilst at the same time following a seemingly confrontational path.

Silence is golden in Sweden. Many cultures find any level of silence intolerable and will rush to fill it. Swedes are more comfortable than most with silence. If you don’t have anything to say, why speak? In meetings, try to cope with these silences by respecting them. Anybody who feels the need to talk incessantly will not necessarily gain respect for his or her volubility.

Although Swedes have a good sense of humour, it is not necessarily appropriate in all business situations. Serious business should be treated seriously.

A brief overview of some key concepts to consider when doing business in Sweden

Written and Produced by Keith Warburton

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Overview

Sweden is an open, diversified and competitive economy which has always looked to international trade as an outlet for its products and services. Over the past few decades Sweden has increasingly focused on the development of high-tech products and services and on the green economy which has helped put a relatively small country right at the vanguard of global development.
In addition, Swedish demographics have been helped by the influx of large number of immigrants from around the world who have added both numbers and skills to the highly educated native Swedish population. All of this adds up to a country which represents a host of opportunities to companies and individuals who have the right products or services – ones which will appeal to a very discerning mark place.

Doing business in Sweden is relatively simple and unencumbered with much of the bureaucracy and red tape often found in other countries. However, Sweden is a high-cost economy and you can lose a lot of money quickly if you don’t get your strategy and planning right from the outset. Part of your planning should be to do some homework on Swedish business culture – like all other countries Sweden has its own unique approach to doing things in a business context and you really need to understand these nuances if you hope to make the right impression.

Sweden is one of the most egalitarian business cultures in the world and people from a more hierarchical culture can often find it difficult to understand how this impacts on business operations. For example, going straight to the top might not be the right approach in a country where power and information are shared openly throughout an organisation and showing less respect to one person than another based on job title will definitely be frowned upon.

This country profile provides an overview of some of the key aspects of Swedish business culture in a concise, easy to follow-format. The document includes information on:

  • Background to business
  • Business Structures
  • Management style
  • Meetings
  • Teamwork
  • Communication
  • Women in business
  • Entertaining
  • Top tips