Norway: Let’s Make a Deal!

2015-06-12

Let’s Make a Deal

Most Norwegians speak some English, and many speak excellent English. In multinationals English may even be the working language. It is not necessary to have your business cards translated. Remember, however, that English is a second language in Norway, so be prepared to modify your language if necessary. Outside the office / professional environment expect less proficiency and that many people are less comfortable when speaking English.

Meetings usually start with introductions, either before the meeting or around the table at the start. Listen carefully. Norwegians introduce themselves with their full name, surname last. However, many Norwegians have two given names – both are used as a ‘first’ name [Lars Peter, Anne Kirstin.] It is impolite to shorten the name to just the first of the two. When you introduce yourself, or a colleague, use the first name you use yourself. Leave contractions or nicknames until later. For example, if your name is ‘William’ but you are known as ‘Bill’ introduce yourself as ‘Bill’ even if you have ‘William’ on your card.

Norwegians do not usually use courtesy titles, but will use them if they are on your business card. First names are often used in Norway, and if you don’t mind going on first name terms immediately tell your Norwegian colleague / contact :‘I’m David Smith–call me David. Otherwise, don’t be offended if titles / courtesy titles aren’t used.

Norwegians prepare for meetings and expect you to have done the same. Be punctual. A ‘ normal ’meeting scheduled to start at 09.00 will start at 09.00, but don’t expect Norwegians to turn up ten minutes early. For more formal meetings there may well be a period when people assemble before the meeting is convened, but again this will not be very long.

Norway has survived as a trading nation for centuries and Norwegians are used to negotiating with people from many different cultures all over the world. However, the Norwegian way is often seen as somewhat ‘direct’, since they like to get to the point quickly and establish the boundaries before starting to look at the finer details.

In meetings Norwegians believe that everyone should be included and everyone should be given an opportunity to have a say. They like to show that they consider and value all opinions. This can sometimes lead to protracted discussion even after a point has been agreed in principle.

The aim of any negotiation is to arrive at the best deal. Although ‘give and take’ is expected do not interpret this as a lack of focus. Norwegians know what they want and have decided what they are prepared to be flexible on, and what the deal breakers are. They do not like being presented with ultimatums, preferring always to find a mutually acceptable solution.

In many areas, consideration of the wider interests of Norway is part of the decision process. In manufacturing, the importance to the local and national interest is often a key factor. This means that cost considerations, for example, are not always on top of the agenda. Price is important, but a lowest-cost solution is not always seen as the best for Norway.

Most Norwegian companies are heavily unionised. The unions are integrated into the management structure of the company with employees’ representatives on the board. The employees are always informed and involved in any major change that affects them or their livelihoods. It is entirely possible that a union representative will be present even when a takeover or purchase of a company is being discussed.

Negotiations should be conducted in a professional, businesslike manner. Facts and figures are more important than personality. However, Norwegian industry has well established networks and a personal recommendation can go a long way.

Although Norwegians can be great innovators, they often take a long time to accept new ideas or new procedures that have been developed elsewhere. If you are coming with a new or novel approach do not expect to be greeted with wild enthusiasm, so allow a little time for the idea to be accepted.

Although a negotiating team may have a leader, or a meeting a chair, he or she is not always the main decision maker or person with a casting vote. Consensus after discussion is the aim, and negotiating teams will come to a conclusion as a group. A decision imposed from above is an alien concept.

Presentations should be concise, matter of fact and to the point. Any visuals or handouts should contain only the essential information. Even though Norwegians have a good command of English, they may miss the subtleties and will probably have difficulty with idioms or colloquialisms. Keep your message short and use plain English.
Norway prides itself in the progress it has made towards complete gender equality in the workplace. A law passed recently will mean that the management of all companies will have to have 40% women members. All members of a negotiating team are of equal value and status; do not be surprised if the lead is taken by a woman even when she is obviously younger than any of the men.

Even though there is a great emphasis on equality and value placed on proven ability, there is a still a management hierarchy. There are still levels of management, though it may be difficult to establish what the levels are. Job titles alone may only provide a rough indication. Very often the authority to make a decision may be delegated down the management structure; the person at the top has confidence in the managers below. However, there may also be a need to refer decisions upwards and sideways – to ensure that all those affected or potentially affected by a decision have their say.