Norwegians urged to stop bragging

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So much for Norwegian modesty: New research shows that Norwegians are now seen as bragging about their affluence, strong currency and lifestyle so much that their Nordic neighbours want them to shut up and calm down.

Norwegians now number 5 million, many of them highly patriotic. PHOTO: Petter Tandberg/Ski-VM

Norwegians have always been wildly patriotic at sporting events. Now it seems their pride in their lifestyles and affluence has led to bragging in the business world. PHOTO: Petter Tandberg/Ski-VM

Norwegians have generally been viewed as humble and modest folks who like a simple life, weekends away at their preferably spartan cabin (hytte) or enjoying leisure in their scenic outdoors at no cost.  The so-called janteloven (The Law of Jante) has traditionally had a strong foothold in the culture, with its decrees that no one  should assume they’re any better than anyone else.

This may have begun to change.

“Norwegians are often so direct that it blows away foreigners,” Gillian Warner-Søderholm, an anthropologist and researcher at the Norwegian Business School BI, told newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN) on Wednesday. She has conducted extensive research and interviews with more than 700 managers in the Nordic countries, to discern cultural and managerial differences. Norwegians, it seems, are now quite different indeed.

“Norwegians are the most informal, direct and honest, but they’re not good at small talk,” Warner-Søderholm told DN. “They often talk about themselves – about their cabins, their boats, their leisure time, the Norwegian welfare system and their strong currency. Others may perceive us as smug because we’re doing so well.”

Warner-Søderholm says Norwegians should rather talk about things that their foreign colleagues and partners may find more interesting. “We simply have to calm down a bit,” she says.

‘Show some manners’
Professor Thomas Hylland-Eriksen at the University of Oslo is not surprised. “We’re on our way up, full speed, while large portions of the rest of Europe are down. It’s hard not to be perceived as smug,” Hylland-Eriksen told DN. A good piece of advice, he said, would be “to show some manners.”

British-born Warner-Søderholm, who heads the Department of Communications, Culture and Language at BI, said that although there are many similarities among managers in the Nordic countries, there are still important differences in how they communicate, manage, make decisions and take or avoid leadership.

According to Warner-Søderholm, Swedes are better at small-talk, networking and customer focus, while Danish managers are good at making quick decisions. Finns have more respect for managers at a higher level than themselves, which can be beneficial in international negotiations.

While Norwegians can learn a thing or two from their Nordic colleagues, she said, it goes both ways, with Norwegians able to pass on “honesty, ethics and efficiency” as the key traits she sums up. Norwegians, she claimed, can see the same results after a half-hour meeting as one that goes on for two days.

Warner-Søderholm also says the Norwegian balance between work and leisure could be beneficial for other countries. Norwegians tend to at least take weekends off, something that might bring on a better quality of life but could also be a challenge in the global business world.

Bigger cultural differences than expected
Natasha Svaneby, a Swede who has worked in Norway for four years, told DN that cultural differences between Swedes and Norwegian are greater than what she’d expected.

“There are plenty of differences, both in business and in private life,” said Svaneby, who works as an account manager at SEB bank. She noted that while her fellow Swedes have ritual coffee breaks morning and afternoon along with a midday break for lunch (usually warm food, eaten at a restaurant), Norwegians tend to take a home-made lunch pack (matpakke) with them to work, often just a piece of bread with a slice of cheese, and eat at their desk while working, in order to scoot out the door by 4pm to free up time for leisure activities.

Good advice
Warner-Søderholm offers some advice to Norwegians doing business with other Nordic countries: Don’t talk about yourself too much, be less direct in Sweden and Denmark, learn to exchange small-talk when in Sweden, expect longer decision-making processes in Sweden and shorter in Denmark.

And for Swedes, Danes and Finns doing business in Norway: Be prepared for direct and open communication, expect more female managers, engage in the local culture, be open about your education and previous experience. And don’t misunderstand: Norwegians don’t mean to be smug, Warner-Søderholm believes, they’re just proud of their oil fund, their welfare state and the strong Norwegian krone.

Oh, and be prepared for janteloven, which Warner-Søderholm apparently believes still rules in Norway: Don’t assume you’re better than another…

Views and News from Norway/Aasa Christine Stoltz

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