Inspired by Alexander Mason in this blog post on our Swedish Blog, I decided to do a post on how to communicate with a Norwegian. Norwegians can be somewhat hard to understand, and it is a widespread perception that we are both rude and cold. Apparently, a lot of people even believe that we are stupid – just have a look at the Google search below!

 

To understand the reason behind our seemingly “icy” and stupid behavior (at least you have recognized our beauty!) it is important to understand the Norwegian mindset. Being a Norwegian myself, I would of course argue that we are the most pleasant people in the world – once you know how to handle us.

Equality

First of all, Norwegian culture is based on democratic principles of respect and interdependence. One of the most important features of the Norwegian culture is equality, which is commonly described using Aksel Sandemose´s description of the law of the fictional village of Jante. The Jante law describes a belief that you are not to think you are anything special, or that you are better, wiser, or more valuable than others. In fact, according to the Jante law you are not to think you are good at anything at all! The law is about not bragging or projecting yourself in a flashy way, and it expresses the widespread cultural belief in egalitarianism.

With this in mind, openness is a vital feature when communicating with a Norwegian. Listen, be constructive and spot on when criticizing, and don’t in any way emphasize hierarchical positions or nepotism in your reasoning. The facts of the case should speak for itself! Prepare to get to the right decision together – as your first proposal probably has some flaws as well.

The law of Jante has seen a change in recent years, and it is no longer perceived in a strictly black and white manner. In some instances Norwegians can seem provocatively self-satisfied, and I would argue that when speaking as a Norwegian and not as an individual, most of us can seem smug and set in our own ways. However, the Norwegian humor tends to be dry and witty with a touch of irony – so it might not always be as bad as it seems.

Plain speaking

Norwegians are direct communicators. This is something that for many might seem cold and unfriendly, but for us honesty is a matter of respect. We will tell you that we disagree if we do, and we are expecting the same courtesy from you – as long as you do not interrupt others while they are speaking. Disagreements are not viewed upon as a negative matter, but rather a way to arrive at the best possible solution for all parties.

We prize plain speaking and rely on facts, and at times the more subtle approach found in many Asian countries as well as the UK can be perceived as evasive or even dishonest. If your plan is to win over a Norwegian, try not to “oversell”. Be straightforward and express the facts in a direct manner without avoiding the weaknesses in your argument – the honesty when doing so is more likely to foster respect and reap rewards than a more self-promotional line of attack – also when it comes to PR. Sugarcoating something we are destined to find out about eventually is very likely to, as a Norwegian would say, make us want to kick your ass.

Transactional relations

Despite its equality principles, Norway is an individualistic society. The right to privacy is important and respected, and there are clear lines between work and private life.  Hence, our professional relations are viewed upon as transactions, and we do not depend upon a long-standing personal relationship in order to conduct business. Nonetheless, doing business with people we trust is a preference – so providing us with references, company data and personal information will help you get an in. We will probably not invite you to our home for dinner, but that is not to be taken as a sign of disinterest or distrust. For Norwegians, reserve is a greatly valued characteristic, and it would be foolish to understand our seemingly lack of emotional attachment as anything but respecting your privacy. As mentioned earlier Norwegians communicate in a very explicit way; what we say is what we mean, and we don’t leave uncomfortable things unsaid – especially when it comes to business.

                                                                                   Keeping track of time

Norwegians are detail oriented; so don’t expect us to take a firm stand on the spur of the moment. Coupled with our ways of consensus you can expect decisions to take a while, as we put importance on weighing all the alternatives. With that said, you will probably never meet anyone with a more literal understanding of appointment schedules as a Norwegian. Value our time as much as we do: Punctuality is crucial, as it indicates your respect and trustworthiness. Don’t get me wrong, we have all encountered something to make us a bit late – but if you don’t give us prior notice may damage a potential relationship. You should make appointments well in advance, because if you are expecting us to be at your every beck and call – we absolutely will not be.

 

Posted by: Anna Maria Dornell Sørum @annamaria_ds