When you enter negotiations in Sweden you should be aware of your inner attitude and also reflect what impression you are making on the other side during the conversations.
Swedes will always see you as a negotiating partner and not as a negotiating opponent. They will search for a solution in a friendly and nice way, one that is positive for you and for themselves. And they expect the same from you!
While in many countries negotiations usually open with maximum demands, and then there is an attempt to enforce them, Swedes go into the discussion with a quite realistic position and a smaller room to negotiate. They are willing to take aspects and desires of the negotiating partner into consideration and include them in the agreement.
Are The Swedes Unprepared?
It is often reported that Swedes are unprepared when entering negotiations. But appearances are deceptive. It is indeed true that Swedes often come to negotiations (even sometimes very important ones) with nothing but a pen and a blank sheet of paper. But it would be a mistake to interpret that as being unprepared.
Merely because there is no written material, and no numbers, facts, figures, and presentations on the table, that does not mean that Swedes do not know what they want. They are often underestimated, and that can lead to disadvantages for the other side of the negotiations in Sweden.
Compromises Are Positive!
Sweden is a society based on consensus, and so there is an attempt in negotiations, even between negotiating rivals, to find the best possible results for both sides. Whereas compromises are often felt to be negative in other countries – it’s only a compromise, we could not get what we wanted – Swedes learn from childhood that compromises are positive!
You can use that to your advantage. If you go into negotiations in Sweden and from the start give signals that you are interested in a compromise, you remove from the discussion its sharpness and harshness. That in its turn has the advantage that you are not perceived as aggressive and obstinate. Instead, you can surprise them with your friendliness and colleagueship and use that in a positive way for the result of the negotiations in Sweden. The probability that you will reach a good compromise or even a win-win situation is enhanced greatly.
Not only can an apparent lack of preparation be annoying when negotiating with Swedes. The absence of status symbols can cause uncertainty. Is the person opposite the right negotiating partner at all, with the appropriate authority to make decisions? For example, it can certainly happen that on Swedish business cards there is no title and not even the position in the company written down. And a sometimes unconventional way of dressing can bring about further doubts.
Do not pay attention to external appearances of your Swedish negotiating partners. You will presumably not find the signals you normally expect in your country to be able to judge the other side in Sweden.
Silence Is good!
Sudden silence and calm on the part of the Swedes can also bring about uncertainty. In many countries communication is generally very rapid and direct, statement and counter-statement can overlap. Silence is felt to be unpleasant. Swedes consider silence to be pleasant. They like to leave a short pause between statement and counter-statement; not letting someone finish speaking is crudely impolite. It shows respect and mutual esteem if you let what has been said resonate for a while before answering.
From The Decision To The Contract
Foreign business partners often wonder when a decision has been made and when the negotiations in Sweden actually lead to the signing of a contract? And that is a good question, and not so easy to answer.
In principle, you can assume that Swedes communicate openly and fairly with their business partners if they have not already had negative experiences with just these business partners. As well, they abide by oral agreements. It is the indirect Swedish way of communicating that often causes uncertainty for international business partners on whether a decision has been reached or not. Many signals from the Swedes are simply observed incorrectly or not at all.
You should always assume that Swedes decide in consensus with their team, so possibly have to consult once more, which can lead to an alteration in the one discussed with you. There is no one person, not even in the background, who makes the final decision, which is what many business people from abroad believe (or wish for).
But it can also happen if you have been talking to Swedes for a long while and the team has weighed the pros and cons and the whole area has been comprehensively covered, that the decision is made straight away during negotiations in Sweden.
The only sure thing is that the Swedes sitting at the negotiating table play an important role in the decision-making process. So maybe you should practise a little patience, sharpen all your senses for the Swedish signals and always be friendly, helpful, and collegial. If your offer is in accord with the needs of the Swedes, and the quality is convincing, the delivery deadlines are suitable and the price acceptable, sooner or later you will close the deal.
What Is A Contract?
On the question of what a contract really is, the opinions differ, even if the question really seems to be a no-brainer.
In many countries, a contract is signed for the eventuality that at some point you do not get along anymore. A contract is ›law‹. Things will be carried out as they are stated in the contract. So all of the details have to be cleared up before the signing of the contract.
In Sweden, a contract is made as to the starting point for good cooperation. In doubtful cases it is implemented the way the oral agreement was meant: later an amicable solution will be found.
Those differing attitudes explain why business people from different countries often have a serious issue after contract negotiations in Sweden; or rather, misunderstandings are almost pre-programmed.
Swedes might find their foreign business partners formal, over-complex, and obstinate because they stick to the written contract no matter what. The other side for their part might regard the Swedes as unreliable because agreements set out in a contract are again and again questioned and reopened.
It is obvious that the Swedish way of looking at negotiations and contracts can irritate business partners who are used to concentrating on results. For their part, Swedes feel this attitude to be a barrier to building up a good, relaxed, and friendly atmosphere, which from their point of view is necessary for finding a consensus and a good result of negotiations. After all, people are contract partners so there should be mutual trust.
Extract from Business Culture Sweden, Courtesy of CONBOOK Verlag