The first job interview I had in Finland was a disaster. I am considered a talkative person, even in my own culture, so I chatted with the secretary that led me to their conference room. I asked her about the weather, about the cough she had, about the decor of the room and received one-word answers. Finally, she said, “It’s okay, you don’t have to keep talking. Really.”
Living in Finland, you have probably seen the Finnish nightmare cartoons or endless memes about Finnish communication. Finns around the world have become famous for their short, blunt answers. A reporter asked Formula One driver Kimi Räikkönen, “The helmet has a special meaning for many drivers. How important is it to you?” His answer? “It protects my head.”
Finland has a unique culture when it comes to communications. Practices that are commonplace in other societies can be seen as a waste of resources or put off people in the Finnish business sphere. But don’t let that stop you from reaching out to Finnish clients. Here are some tips when it comes to communications in Finland.
- Don’t use phone conversations as a primary method of communication
A Finnish person helped develop the SMS in the ’90s and since then, text has been the preferred method of communication for most of this country. A small start-up may have limited resources for customer relations. So instead of manning a phone, use your resources to maintain an online chat and email.
This practice will also help you – if a customer writes in with an issue, you have the time to properly read through it and ensure they get the correct solution. Bonus: you keep a record of your conversations. Create a company policy to ensure timely responses and share the policies with your clients. You can choose to also offer a phone, but do not make it the primary mode of communication between your clients and the company.
- Get used to silence
For many cultures, silence spells failure. In my own country, we learn how to ‘small talk’ early to ensure there’s never uncomfortable silence. This is not the case in Finland. It’s okay to be silent. Like learning small talk, learning to be comfortable with silence may take some getting used to. But it can be an advantage.
Let’s say you have a meeting with a potential client. You are shown to a room and your contact informs you another colleague will be joining shortly. They go to their computer and start typing. Instead of stammering through questions, take advantage of the time as they are. Look over notes, answer emails, or read some jokes online. Use the time to your own advantage.
The flip side to remember: if you have something that you need to ask, ask it. Take the same situation we just discussed: if you have a question, ask them before they open their computer. But don’t feel that you have too.
- Respect vacation or off-time
Vacations are, in many cultures, overlooked. Not in Finland. Even in a startup where the CEO may be working 12 hour days, they will still have time when the phone is off. And so will your clients, so respect that. If you get an automatic reply about vacation and the world isn’t ending, don’t call your client, even if they include a number to reach them. These emails often will have someone you can reach in the event of immediate action. Contact them or wait.
And don’t forget to practice this yourself. Turn off your notifications during your own holidays and don’t check your email. It can be hard but you will be a better employee if you do. Recharge your brain and turn off the phone.
- Be honest
This sounds like ‘no duh,’ but it’s more complicated than that. In many countries, people try to make things look the best that they can be, even if it’s a small exaggeration. Many people will even do this in their own CV’s and it is expected, to an extent.
Not in Finland. White lies or small exaggerations degrade trust. Imagine a client contacts you to see when a fix for a bug will be going out. You know they want that fix to go out ASAP, and the development team maybe said it could be ready by Friday, so why not tell the client that? Well, if that fix fails testing and is delayed, the client will not trust you in the future.
Don’t make something sound better than reality. This is perceived as lying and will destroy trust in you. If a fix is probably going out in a week, tell the client it will most likely be two. If it goes out in a week, then you get to tell the client the good news. If it fails testing after one week, you have a little wiggle room to fix the bug or to update the client before the end date about the situation.
- Embrace technology
“Technology is killing communication. People just don’t talk anymore.” What do you think people are using that technology for? Instead of waiting months to talk to the world, it is instant. Companies can expand beyond their borders, forming solid connections, unlike anything the world has ever seen. Technologies are changing the landscape of business and life, but that is not new. Even Socrates worried that “[the written word] will create forgetfulness in a learner’s soul.” But society adjusted to the new technology of writing.
In recent times, Finland has embraced technology, declaring access to internet services a basic human right. So take advantage of the new tech. Create online chats for your customers, maintain a social media presence, read up with the global trends in your industry, and invite potential clients to webinars or online meetings. For a startup, many of these services are discounted or even free. Use these methods to let your customers know you are there for them, ready to help them, allowing your own company to grow with them.
Finland’s communication culture is not as extreme as internet memes. It is a small country, full of sisu, and their business practices reflect this. They don’t want to waste time with uncomfortable talk so they have become comfortable with silence and their own thoughts. They want to take the time that writing a help request allows. They know the value of turning off once in a while and of being honest. And finally, they embrace new technology and watch their business expand because of it.
Don’t get left out of the conversation. Jump into the Finnish business landscape and take the first step to connect with Finnish clients. You may end up adopting many of these communication practices in your own life.
By Ailey Irvine, October 18, 2019
Ailey Irvine is a friendly British-American who now calls Finland home. She currently works as a customer service specialist for Assetti Oy, a PropTech company.