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10 Ice Cool Cross-Cultural Tips on Doing Business in the Nordics


Are you planning on doing business in the Nordic region? Maybe you already do? Want to learn more about the business culture? Then this blog is for you!

When working in a foreign culture it's essential to understand a bit about the people and how they like to do business.

Although there is a common language of international business, this doesn’t mean cultural differences don’t still cause problems. They most definitely do.

So in this blog, we are going to give you what we feel are the top ten tips on doing business in the region and how to avoid some of the common cultural traps many foreigners fall into.

But, firstly, where are The Nordics?

When talking about the Nordic countries we mean the countries of Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, and Sweden.

All are considered to share Nordic culture and history.

‘Scandinavia’ is sometimes used as another word for the Nordic countries, but technically that term refers only to the monarchies of Denmark, Norway and Sweden.

Language is a major factor in Nordic identity. Danish, Norwegian, Swedish and Icelandic are all rooted in Old Norse and Danish, Norwegian and Swedish are considered mutually intelligible. These three dominating languages are taught in schools throughout the Nordic region.

Nordic Cross.svg

Did you know each Nordic country's flag is based on the Nordic Cross?

This cross represents Christianity, with the shift of the centre point to the left representing their difference from other Christian nations of Europe.

Doing Business in Nordic Cultures

The business culture of any country or region is rooted in its cultural values.

In terms of the business culture, some of the influential values within the Nordics are egalitarianism, family, respect and cooperation.

It’s these values that shape how people do business in the region and mould their expectations.

You’ll see these expressed in many of the following 10 tips for foreigners going to Nordic countries to do business.

#1 Be direct in communication

Nordic business culture expects transparency and efficiency. They like to get to the point so they can move on and get things done. Being over-polite in how you express your opinions or too indirect in how you request information can lead to confusion and is seen as a waste of precious time.
Keep it simple, clear and on point.

#2 Show commitment to Nordic values

Nordic culture places a lot of emphasis on creating a happy society for everyone and this is expressed in the energy spent in protecting the environment, social equality, gender equity and fair workplace practices.
Try to reflect the same commitment in what you do, whether as an individual or a company.

#3 Appreciate and respect their work/life balance

Unlike in some other cultures, there is a very clear line between personal and professional life in Nordic business culture. People are more than happy to do what their jobs demand of them during working hours, but as soon as it’s 5 pm (or end of business), they down tools and get back to their personal lives.
Don’t be expected people to respond to emails out of hours or to sound happy to speak to you about work during the weekend.

#4 Punctuality pays

Respect is very important in Nordic culture as is respecting others’ rights. Time is considered a precious commodity and as such, to keep someone waiting for something is near to being disrespectful.
When working in the region make sure you are on time for everything and never miss deadlines as this will be counted against you.

#5 Familiar, friendly but formal relationships

Business in the Nordic region is very friendly and familiar, however, don’t confuse this will informal. It’s crucial to always remember that there needs to be a professional line that is not crossed, especially in the workplace.
Leave it up to your counterparts to ‘drop’ formalities, not you.

#6 Casual, not careless, dress code

The dress code in business in the region can appear relaxed, casual and informal but it is definitely not open to any sense of carelessness. If you look like you have just thrown together your outfit, you’ll be judged for it.
Always look well-groomed, well-dressed and well-co-ordinated.

#7 Facts, not emotions sway decisions

If you’re trying to influence decisions and get contracts signed, then appealing to emotions is not going to help you. Although they may generate sympathy, business decisions are made on facts, figures and logical deduction.
Always focus on proving your points with hard evidence.

#8 Create consensus

The cultural emphasis on equality means that the Nordic culture leans towards being consensus-focused when it comes to matters of the group. Everyone’s opinion matters.
When working with teams, put effort into building agreement with everyone involved, not just the boss.

#9 Avoid gifts

Due to anti-corruption laws, gifts are not part of the business culture; in fact, they are not really liked on a professional level as it puts people into uncomfortable situations in which they may have to sometimes refuse a gift.
If you want to take something, it needs to be something that can in no way, shape or form be misinterpreted as an inappropriate gift by authorities, such as a book.

#10 Keep humour for outside of the office

Although the people have a great sense of humour, on the whole humour is seen as for after-hours, not for the meeting room.
Try to always keep the tone serious and professional, yet friendly.

Looking for more information on Nordic culture?

Then try our free country guides! Packed full of information on the culture, people and business practices!

  1. Denmark
  2. Finland
  3. Norway
  4. Sweden

 Photo by Frans Van Heerden from Pexels


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