Swedish Culture

Communication

Verbal

  • Communication Style: Communication in Sweden is participative, with everyone encouraged to share their perspective. There is a tendency for Swedes to avoid conflict or confrontation and refrain from raising their voice or showing anger. Rather, one may show anger by looking away or stopping talking. Modesty is important to many. Thus, Swedes will avoid boasting or embellishing a conversation. In turn, if a Swedish person says they are good at something, it usually means they are an expert or at a professional level.
  • Direct Communication: Swedes tend to communicate in a manner, speaking quite frankly in a straightforward manner. Conversation is functionally focused. They will often address conflict or confrontation directly, yet diplomatically. Although they may speak in more pointed terms, Swedes generally seek to maintain a polite tone.
  • Interruption: It is considered rude to interrupt someone during a conversation. It is thought to indicate that one does not have a genuine interest in what the other is saying. 
  • Turns: Swedes usually take turns while speaking. This means that each person in the conversation will speak without interruption until they have finished what they are expressing. The conclusion of one's turn is usually signalled by silence.
  • Silence: Moments of silence are rarely seen as awkward in Sweden. In turn, Swedes don’t tend to rush to fill periods of silence in conversation. However, if the silence is particularly long, it may be seen as a sign that people have little interest in speaking with one another.
  • Pronouns: In 2015, the official dictionary of the Swedish language was updated to include a third, gender-neutral pronoun. The new pronoun (‘hen’) was added alongside ‘han’ (‘he’) and ‘hon' (‘she'). Hen is used to refer to someone without revealing their gender identity – either because it is not known, the writer/speaker deems gender to be irrelevant information or because the person is transgender.

 

Non-Verbal

  • Personal Space: Many Swedes value their personal space and do not appreciate it being invaded by others. For example, in elevators, a Swedish person will tend to stand as far apart from another person as they can. A little over an arm’s length of space is common during conversations. Individual space is also maintained amongst family and friends. 
  • Physical Contact: Traditionally, Swedes seldom embraced in public or put their arm around another. However, this is changing, and people are becoming more casual. Displays of friendship are more common, with light touching during conversations – such as a hand on the arm or elbow – is not uncommon among friends and family.
  • Eye Contact: Eye contact is an important element of conversation. Many Swedes feel that avoiding eye contact is a sign that someone is not interested in the conversation. 
  • Gestures: Swedes tend not to use excessive hand gestures when speaking.

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