Swiss Communication Styles

As is widely known, Switzerland is a multilingual country with four official languages – Swiss German (nearly 70% of the indigenous population), French, Italian and Romansh.

Most people can at least read Swiss German, so if there is a unifying language, then that is what it has to be. As many Swiss speak at least two of the official languages plus English, they have to be viewed as one of the great polyglot nations of the world – an obvious boost to their internationalist aspirations.

On the whole, the Swiss believe in plain speaking and place directness before diplomacy. It is expected and respected that people will speak their minds, without feeling the need to couch any uncomfortable messages in a softer way in order to spare the feelings of the audience. The type of coded language used by the Japanese or the British can be misconstrued in Switzerland as prevarication or even deviousness. Better to say what you mean and mean what you say.

As has already been stated, however, this directness of approach should not be confused with confrontation or aggression – it is more the result of a desire to get to the truth or the empirically provable right answer.

People tend to be reticent to speak about personal issues to new contacts, preferring to keep communication on a strictly business footing. There is little small talk prior to starting a meeting and people will try to express themselves succinctly and without theatrical embellishments.

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

Written and Produced by Keith Warburton

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Switzerland must rank as one of the most politically and economically stable countries in the world. It has for years managed to deliver ongoing prosperity for its highly educated, multi-lingual population and, although the country did feel the impact of the banking crisis, the long-term signs seem very positive.

Switzerland is a land-locked country yet despite that seeming disadvantage it is an extremely successful export economy with sector strengths ranging from advanced manufacturing through to high-end financial services. As well as being export-oriented, Switzerland has also been able to attract massive levels of inward investment through a combination of fiscal incentives and a very high standard of living.

Recent years have seen large numbers of immigrants entering Swiss society and whilst this has led to some internal tensions, it has also allowed Switzerland to benefit from the arrival of highly skilled workers who have helped Swiss industry remain at the forefront of innovation and productivity.

Switzerland is a high-cost, high-skilled economy which must be an attractive proposition for many international organisations who are looking to grow their business by entering new markets. Don’t be put off by the seemingly high costs – Switzerland is worth a closer look.

However, Switzerland is a culturally complex country – as you would expect from a country with four official languages. Before starting to do business in Switzerland you would be well-advised to develop a good understanding of the significant cultural differences you can find within the country. Don’t be fooled by the fact that so many people speak good English – their fluency in English doesn’t mean they don’t think, act and behave in a Swiss way.

This country profile provides an overview of some of the key aspects of Swiss 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