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19 December 2016

Brilliant Business - Finland

Written by Maria Green, Posted in RPTInformed

Brilliant Business - Finland

Top 10 Tips for doing Business in Finland (aka home of Santa)

Ah Finland, a smallish nation but the home of many exciting things, and perhaps, most importantly at this festive time of the year – Finland is best known for having the most famous resident of all – Santa Claus himself! Ho ho ho!

Finland is the closest Nordic nation to the former USSR, making it ideally located to conduct business with Russia and the Baltic States of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia. If you include Scandinavia into the Northwestern Russia and other Baltic States mix, then there are more than 80 million prospective customers surrounding Finland, pretty much on their doorstep (so to speak).

It also boasts one of the highest Internet and mobile phone penetration rates in the world, whilst still being a leader in the paper and shipbuilding industries. Did you know that every 4th cruise ship is constructed in Finland? And, currently, more than 40% of EU’s shipments (via truck) to Russia travel across Finnish roads.

Impressive, to say the least!


Here are our Top 10 Tips for doing business in Santa’s backyard…

1. Home of Santa (and Elvish?)
2. It’s all about Sisu
3. Mad as a hatter – tick tock
4. Silence is golden
5. Avoid the ‘hard sell’ as it may back-fire
6. Talking the lingo, and then some
7. Say it to my face!
8. Is it getting hot in here?
9. Touchy Feely
10. Winter woollies alert

1. Home of Santa (and Elvish?)
Santa Claus’ original home lies in the mysterious Korvatunturi (“Ear Fell”) in Finnish Lapland. The exact location is a well-kept secret but he established an office in 2010 in Rovaniemi and all letters to Santa arrive in the post office here, to be handled by his elves. Not only is Finland the home of Santa, it is also said that J.R.R. Tolkien (author of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings) reportedly based his fictional Elvish language on Finnish. This attracts many visitors which can only be a good thing for the economy of Finland.

2. It’s all about ‘Sisu’
‘Sisu’ – the motto of Finns. The sentiment here is of the associated characteristics of perseverance and stubbornness. It’s difficult to translate but perhaps “I may not win, but I will gladly die trying” captures it best, and which reflects the indomitable spirit of the Finnish character - worth bearing in mind during a difficult negotiation!

3. Mad as a hatter – tick tock
They’ll be ‘mad as a hatter’ if you’re late! Punctuality is hugely important and the Finns are the most punctual people in the world. Lateness demonstrates an insulting lack of concern – if you are going to be even just 5 minutes late, it’s best to call in advance and let them know, but don’t expect it to get you any brownie points. 

4. Silence is golden
Don’t be put off by long silences – this can be a bit confusing for some foreign negotiators, but the Finns are very comfortable with being quiet and unemotional in public, even for extended periods of time. There is no need to fill the silence. It’s not a negative thing and it indicates that they are thinking about what you have said. Oh, and it’s worth remembering that Interrupting is regarded as r-u-d-e… 

5. Avoid the ‘hard sell’ as it may back-fire
Finns have a strong determination and tend to prefer facts and objectivity over subjective feelings. Good humour is acceptable, with an appreciation for dry, sardonic wit, but avoid being too over-enthusiastic. ‘Modesty’ and ‘Facts’ are the buzzwords here. That said, the Finns are said to be tough negotiators who like to view all possible outcomes, before ‘succumbing to optimism’. They are known for being generally cautious in their approach to the ‘new’; however, once accepted, they will enthusiastically embrace it. And about that whizzy presentation you just did? Definitely don’t expect applause, or immediate feedback for that matter, or even a lot of questions… it’s just not the Finnish way. 

6. Talking the lingo, and then some
Finland has two official languages and many Finns are multi-lingual: Finnish and Swedish are the main languages, with English coming in as third most popular language. It is worth noting that Finnish and Estonian are both members of the Finno-Ugric linguistic family, and are also mutually intelligible. As I’ve learnt the hard way, bragging about ‘speaking three languages’ will not get you the usual expressions of awe in Finland; rather, maybe a throwaway comment - ‘Oh, only three?’. 

7. Say it to my face!
Say it, don’t write it – it is said that the Finns are far more comfortable talking by phone or in person, rather than writing in emails or indulging in formal correspondence. Agendas should be circulated in advance and small talk at the start of a meeting can be either very brief or non-existent – it’s just how they roll. It’s worth knowing that while it is considered courteous to have all materials translated into Finnish, it is not strictly required. 

Finland Sauna  ©  G Raisman8. Is it getting hot in here?
Business meetings are usually held over lunch where it is acceptable to discuss business-related issues over the meal. The Scandinavian, hard-drinking reputation of old doesn’t normally apply at lunchtime, and it’s worth noting here that the Finns LOVE coffee… however, dinner can be a whole different kettle of fish (excuse the pun). So, if you do happen to be invited to dinner – brace yourself (beer and vodka are popular choices) and conversation would probably not be mainly focussed on business topics. That said, there is also the small matter of the Finnish love for the sauna – these can be pre or post a meal – and business discussions do take place here. All you need to know is this: Finns sauna naked. That’s not saying that you have to, too… just that you may look like a square peg in a round hole, as it is considered strange to go in clothed… #justsaying 

9. Touchy Feely
Making the right gestures is very important. In Finland, body language can be limited and difficult to read and the Finns are not overly keen on physical contact in a business environment, so things like back slapping, or a hand on the arm or shoulder, is frowned upon and just not the ‘done thing’ – contact is normally reserved for family and friends only and does not have a place in the work environment. A brief, firm handshake is enough (so long as it’s with eye-contact and a nod of the head). For your part, it’s best not to fold your arms (as this signifies arrogance or close-mindedness), or to sit with your ankle resting on your knee (waaay too casual) and it is seen as impolite to speak with your hands in your pockets. This may also go without saying, but try to avoid any attitude of superiority or supremacy – this won’t get you very far. 

10. Winter woollies alert
Primary Hazard for Visitors – beware the weather! Finland is a very safe country, and most visitors come away with no more damage than a hangover from trying to keep up with the natives (or flashbacks of ‘that’ sauna…) However, beware and prepare for the weather – winter especially is very cold and snowy (temperatures can drop to -30 degrees C), but if you are up for the naked sauna, well, no winter woollies required!

References


 

About the Author

Maria Green

Maria Green

Maria is a BA (Hons) Psychology and Business Studies graduate with a passion for creativity, effective communication and believes that only the highest standards of quality and service will do… which is a good job really as this is what RPT do so well!

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