Finnish Business Etiquette
By all means this is not a guide which stereotypes the Finnish people or is written in stone, these tips are more so an opportunity to provide you with greater cultural awareness and understanding of what the ‘norms’ are in Finland when it comes to doing business. Remember to always respect the culture, values and traditions of your prospective clients.
On meeting your prospective business client, a firm handshake, eye contact and a smile are expected. It is also the norm to repeat your name and surname while shaking hands.
Present your business card to your prospective client ensuring that it is written both in English and Finnish and that the Finnish side is facing upwards. It is expected that you treat your client’s business card with respect as they will do so with yours, so do not shove it in your pocket without looking at it. This is part of the initial business meeting process and should not be overlooked.
Planning your business meeting:
Arrange your meeting in advance by phone, email or fax beforehand. Finns are quite comfortable with doing business via email and do not need to have face to face contact for all aspects of the business process. However in terms of business meetings, they are very strict about punctuality and expect you to be the same. If you feel that you may be five minutes late you must ring to inform your clients of your delay. Punctuality is valued and seen as both professional, respectful and efficient.
Avoid arranging business meetings during the summer period between June and August as this is the time most Finns take their annual leave. Christmas time can also be a quieter time as is the case in many countries.
On the whole, unlike some other cultures where a business relationship is developed on getting to know you, the Finns are not overly interested in small talk and prefer to get down to business and focus purely on the matter in hand, without wasting time. When in a meeting never ask personal questions such as a person’s religion, job or political party as this is seen as offensive.
Time management is an important aspect of business life and Finns are adept at ensuring they get the most out of the day and their business meetings, so you can be sure your meetings will be structured, efficient and to the point.
Whilst discussing, it is common for the Finns to take two to three minute silent pauses whilst they reflect on your presentation or comments. This is normal and you should respect these pauses and avoid filling in gaps with unnecessary conversation.
Negotiations cannot be rushed and you will have to demonstrate patience and time, you can also expect for opinions to be to the point and in most businesses and industries, the Finns will not worry whether they have caused you offence or not by being to the point. This is the normal way for them to approach business and if you are aware of this then the negotiation process will be all the more straightforward.
During the negotiation process you will find that the ultimate decision from your prospective business team will be made by the Managing Director.
Meetings will start and finish on time and you will be expected to provide an agenda with your points for discussion in advance of the meeting. Your presentation should be clear and succinct so that no questions need to be asked at end. You should also provide Finnish and English versions of your documentation.
Negotiations do not necessarily always take place in offices. Restaurants are acceptable places for business meetings as well as saunas. Saunas are an inherent part of Finnish culture so do not be surprised if you have a business meeting there. It is important that you respect this custom and do not turn down such an invitation, as it is seen as rude.
During a business lunch, business can be discussed at any time. However, it is not acceptable to discuss business at dinner. However, if business is discussed at this time, it is done after coffee.
If you invite your prospective business client to dinner then you are expected to pay the bill. A business woman can invite a Finnish man to dinner and pay and their will not be any issues as there is a clear equality between sexes unlike in perhaps other cultures, where the man will expect to pay.
Discussions can continue beyond lunch or dinner for one or two hours, so make sure you have cleared your schedule if you are meeting at lunchtime just in case things overrun.
Men should wear conservative, smart suits and women should wear suits or smart work appropriate dresses.
In business meetings, gifts are not normally expected, however a small token at the end of negotiations will be appreciated and appropriate. Good choices to give are items such as: local/national gifts; art; glass liquor/cognac and books.
If you are invited to your client’s home it is appropriate to bring a small gift. If you offer flowers remember not to give even numbers. Avoid white and yellow flowers as these are seen as funeral flowers. Wine and chocolates are good gifts but do not give potted plants.
Don’t let it happen to you:
Upon arriving in Finland for a first meeting, the client covered all areas, respecting the traditions on exchanging business card, was succinct in their presentation and waited patiently whilst their Finnish partners reflected on their comments. The meeting was deemed successful. Later, as negotiations proceeded, the Finns invited their client to the sauna to discuss things further. The client refused. This caused offence and negotiations nearly fell through as a result. Always respect the traditions and customs of the country you are negotiating with!
Here at Planet Veritas, we offer cross-cultural training to ensure that your business dealings are not ruined by an inadequate knowledge of your target culture. Contact us now to find out more!