Traditional Swedish Cultural Values Preferences

Individual Orientation
Self-reliance and initiative valued. Group consensus is the norm to ensure that individuals have a say regardless of status. The support of a group enables people to develop into strong and independent individuals.

All members of society should have equal access to the benefits of the country and to overall well-being regardless of status, gender or ethnicity.

Tolerance for Ambiguity
There is more than one right way. All ideas are considered as long as analysis and clear presentation of facts support the ideas.

Rules and regulations are meant to ensure that everyone is safe and has access to a good quality of life.

Exact Time 
Punctuality is important. Schedules and agendas are carefully observed. Extra time must be scheduled into meetings and negotiations to accommodate consensus-building style.

Quality of Life Orientation
Hard work is important. Having a good quality of life is more important. Work to live rather than live to work.

Cultural Notes:

  • Sweden remained neutral and non-aligned during both world wars.
  • After the cold war, Sweden joined the European Union in 1995, but has opted out of adopting the Euro and joining the Economic Monetary Union (EMU)
  • About 85% of the population are ethnic Swede; about 5% are Finns; more than 10% of its citizens are immigrants.
  • Sweden has a constitutional monarchy ruled by King Carl XVI Gustaf since 1973. His duties are mostly ceremonial.

Cultural Assumptions

  • Hard work and self-discipline
  • “Gante’s Law”— Welfare of the community comes before self
  • Humility
  • Privacy
  • Leisure time is as important as work
  • Limits are expected and respected
  • Consensus is important—each individual should have his or her say in the decisions made by the group
  • Time, autonomy and freedom are valued Calm, self-constraint is a sign of maturity
  • Men and women share equal access and responsibility for all roles in society
  • Friendship is extended cautiously but then is long-term
  • Independence and reciprocity

Traditional Swedish Communication Style

People say what they mean and mean what they say. However, direct confrontation is avoided.

ContextLittle attention is given

Outward display of emotion is seen as immature andunprofessional. Friendly, but reserved communicationshows respect and earns credibility.

Openness and honesty along with a modest personal styleare preferred. Formal titles are rarely used, but using first namesdoes not convey familiarity, only the idea of equality.


Guidelines for Communicating with Swedes

  • Polite directness that avoids confrontation is the norm
  • Exuberant displays of either positive or negative emotion are considered immature and inappropriate
  • Constrained, even-toned communication style earns respect Silence is comfortable, and allows people to formulate thoughts before speaking
  • Small talk and joking during business is not the norm
  • Relationships are important and initial meetings may be a time for Swedes to determine if you are the type of person they want to know
  • Interrupting is not acceptable Listening is a valued skill Directive statements are given less directly to preserve feeling of equality (“We need to have this done by Friday”)
  • Eye contact shows involvement and active listening

Non-Verbal Dynamics

Swedes are generally restrained and do not use many hand gestures. The handshake is the common greeting when meeting and departing. It is firm and short between men, and less firm between women or men and women. Eye contact is important during the handshake and during conversation. Tossing the head backwards slightly means “come here.”

The population is becoming more casual with regard to touching, but traditionally Swedes seldom embrace in public or put their arms around each others’ shoulders. Younger people now may kiss on the cheeks instead of shaking hands. Touching or backslapping during conversation may make people uncomfortable.

Swedes value personal space. Homes are generally uncluttered and have a feeling of spaciousness. People generally stand at an arm’s length apart during conversation.

Business Practices

PROBLEM SOLVING Informal process with few restrictions. Direct, but careful to avoid confrontation.
MOTIVATING PEOPLE More responsibility; moving up in the company; time off, as monetary rewards are taxed at a very high rate.
PERFORMANCE EXPECTATIONS Task-oriented. Must also respect the harmony of the group by following rules of punctuality, politeness and thoughtful consideration of colleagues’ ideas.
APPRAISING PERFORMANCE Based on clearly-defined goals with ample room for honest discussion. Subordinates may also provide feedback to supervisors.
PERFORMANCE EXPECTATIONS Focus on group harmony & shared accomplishment; qualitative and subjective; includes social & economic concerns.
NEGOTIATING, PERSUADING No decisions are made until all parties involved are heard. Don’t expect final decisions at the first meeting. Negotiations are fact- and subject-matter based; no or little emotional display.
DECISION MAKING PROCESS Consensus-finding; thorough decision-making phase is followed by swift implementation phase. Lower-level employees may be empowered with decision-making in their areas of expertise.
PARTICIPATION IN MEETINGS Meetings are scheduled only when necessary; punctuality important; agenda is followed; lengthy discussions of agenda items possible, but only if necessary. Silence is common as people consider their responses.
Respect for authority exists; however open displays of respect are uncommon. All have equal opportunity to express opinions. Superiors expected to recognize talents of each employee.
HIRING Traditionally, jobs are changed infrequently (long-term thinking); labor laws support job stability and make it difficult to dismiss people. “Cradle to grave” mentality is changing, with more young people changing jobs to maximize opportunity.
CUSTOMER RELATIONS Development of long-term relationships; trust is created based on high-quality and reliability of services and products; quality may override price considerations.