Intercultural communication is not easy
There was once a man who collected fine china from Sweden and was introduced to the Swedish term, «lagom,” during a period of study in the country. He accepted an invitation to dinner at the home of a professor one evening, and was quite well-intended when he complimented the host by telling her that, “The food was very lagom!” Quickly, the man realized his faux pas from the reaction upon his professor’s face. For, lagom, according to intercultures Consultant Uta Schulz, means that something is, “not too warm or not to cold; and not too fast and not too slow”; it’s something that is not extraordinary, though sufficiently good and does not need to be made better. Unfortunate for the man, he had misused a common term describing an accepted standard in Sweden. Since picking up her new book at the Stockholm Airport, the man in our story wrote to Uta to share this anecdote of how he had learned Swedish culture by fire!
Developing German-Swedish intercultural competences
The compact guidebook, Swedish Business Culture, authored by Uta Schulz, draws upon her 10+ years of business experience working with, and as a liaison between, Germany and Sweden. While Uta’s target audience is German-speaking business people seeking to more effectively reach their business targets in working with Sweden, insights are also offered on working with Germans and Swedes for those who are less familiar with both cultures. The guidebook was published in Sept. 2014 by Conbook as the most recent in a series of quick and comprehensive reference books. Click to read an overview and reviews of the book in German, Swedish or English.
The Keys to Schwedish Culture
Even in less than an hour during our interview with her, Uta was able to condense her years of business experience into a few easy lessons on keys to Swedish culture. Her book offers solutions of how to manage the cultural characteristics described below. For your information…
…Sweden is a distinct northern neighbor from Deutschland.
…Swedes tend to make decision by consensus.
…Swedish communication culture is relatively indirect.
And not just in comparison with German culture. Uta asserted that, “Swedish culture is one of the most indirect cultures of the world.” According to Trompenaars’ research on national cultures, German communication culture is one of the more direct on a global scale. “It’s quite natural that there is conflict,” said Uta.
An expert for German-Swedish cooperation
In these days of globalization, you can’t be sure that a person with a name like “Schulz” is German. In Uta’s case, it’s true. German-born and, in part, Swedish-educated, Uta began working in German-Swedish companies after university. “I believed that I was well-prepared because I could speak Swedish fluently…but then I realized that we could misunderstand each other very good!…These misunderstandings did not happen because we were speaking different languages, but because we had different expectations.” Like her colleagues, Uta was not engaging in her work at the time with the assumption that there were differences in business culture. Since 2013, Uta has worked as an intercultural coach and trainer with a focus upon Scandinavian countries, including Norway, Denmark and especially Sweden. Her clients tend to be Germans who seek to cooperate with Scandinavian countries or Scandinavian countries wanting to break into the German market.
Swedens global impact
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The above article was included in the Mar. 2015 intercultures e-newsletter.
Picture Credit title Picture: Getty Images.
Picture Credit «Portrait of Uta Schulz»: Uta Schulz.