Getting down to business

Getting down to business

You will really impress a Finn by getting straight down to business after shaking hands. The Finns are very frank, to the point and will tell you all that they think you ought to know to make a decision. On the other hand, they expect you to be the same with them. You will have your chance to say what you need to say and give them all the information they need to make a decision. They will rarely ask questions, believing that any information, if it were important enough, you would have already told them.

I still remember vividly giving my first presentation to a group of Finnish business people. It is still my worst nightmare! My brief was to give a half an hour presentation and allow time for questions and answers afterward. I gave what I thought was a good and interesting presentation. I ended with a few words of Finnish, which I also had written in my PowerPoint presentation so that everyone would understand what I was endeavoring to say. The mere fact that I had tried to speak Finnish was obviously well liked and appreciated. However, when it came to the question and answer time, I thought I had died. No one spoke. There was a deadly hush. The faces of my audience were very somber. There was no spark of emotion and there didn’t seem to be any interest whatsoever in asking any questions. At that moment, I felt totally lost; I didn’t know what to do. It was the first time that I had ever experienced anything like this. The Finnish boss duly caught my eye gave me a reassuring little smile and a nod. Someone eventually asked a question, which I answered, and so the meeting ended. I was completely away from my field of experience. I had no way of perceiving whether I had done well or badly. As it turned out, I had done well and I was asked to give some more presentations.

On my third presentation to some Finnish people, I paused and asked whether anybody had any questions. After a long pause, huge grins appeared on the faces of the audience. Someone laughed and said, «Debby, hasn’t anyone told you we’re Finnish?” In the surprise, I asked what being Finnish had to do with asking questions. Back came the reply and the enlightenment. The gentleman replied, «Oh, in Finland we don’t ask questions. We give you one chance to say everything you need to say, and if it is important you will say it. Then, we will evaluate what you have said, but we don’t ask questions. If we don’t like what we hear, we will then go and listen to somebody else”. So my initiation into doing business in Finland really did seem like a baptism of fire. However, this illustrates a point—the Finns are thinking about what you have said and, most importantly, they don’t think and talk at the same time.

The Finns like to be viewed as specialists and experts and, believe me, the majority of them really are well qualified and well experienced in whatever it is they are doing. They are experts. They hate to look silly and do not like to be shown up in front of others. One writer likens them to those in the Far East who cannot abide losing «face». They will expect you to be very well prepared, will take you at face value, but assume that you are an expert in your field. They will respect you, just as you should respect them. Remember that the Finns aren’t used to being sold to. In practical terms, this means that if you begin to push your product and tell them how wonderful it is, especially if you are going through the process of an «American sell», you will be seen to be bragging. They don’t like this at all. A typical Finnish expert will be slow, calm and soft-voiced. He will know his ‘stuff», and the quality of the products will sell the goods for themselves. However, this said, the Finns are pretty tolerant of odd people and funny habits. There is no real formality about them and they are, therefore, generally very easy to do business with. They will accept you for what you are.