Working With Norwegians

Building Trust in Norway

Norway is a country based on trust, and this is significantly important in the business world here. Trust is extensively woven throughout the entire society. A very simple example of this that in a city like Oslo you can leave your bag, your phone, or other valuables out in the open for extended periods of time, while in most other major cities such items would disappear quickly, likely never to be seen again. In Norway, there is a high level of trust for each other. Very few would steal someone’s property or even disturb it anyway.

Norwegian Government

There is also a strong, and to some extent, blind trust for the government in Norway. As you can probably imagine, for an American this was difficult to adjust to. I mean, like any good American, I love my own country, I even love the government, but I absolutely do not trust them. Perhaps if you follow the news coming from America you can understand why. So, it has taken me some time to trust the government here in Norway. Although, one simply needs to look to the last few decades of how well the Norwegian government has taken care of its people. On top of that Norway was recently ranked the least corrupt country in the entire world. This is an incredible achievement when you consider that several other societies that have amassed their wealth from oil have not done so well to manage corruption. There’s reason to trust the government in Norway. You might even go as far as to say they’re worth every krone they get from those ridiculously high tax rates. It might also be why there is not much Bitcoin in Norway as the is such high trust in the economy as well.

Most shocking to a foreigner like myself is the trust that even large corporations have managed to build in Norway. I mean, trusting the government is one thing but a big scary corporation?! This is so counter to both American and other global markets where big companies do big, bad things. Not so much in Norway. Here, people even love local airline companies! How often do you hear people speak fondly of an airline? Usually, it’s more like complaints about rude service, delayed flights, and lost luggage. Having flown more miles than I care to admit between the US and Norway, I can tell you this is almost never the case. The planes are on time, my bags get where they should go, and the staff is not only nice but incredibly good looking. Corporations here operate differently. They care about their employees and customers. They won’t do something bad for either party even if it means making slightly more profit. For this, and their typically squeaky clean history, they have earned the trust of the people.

On an individual level, most Norwegians consider themselves to be very trustworthy. They will feel great disrespect if you question their trustworthiness. This is important to know in business as many other business cultures do not operate this way. Instead, in those cultures, as you do business you set up many walls for protection and backup plans. You get lawyers to spin up endless terms that protect you in every obscure way possible. Or, you are always looking for some type of advantage as part of the deal. These types of moves will only concern a Norwegian. They will assume you don’t trust them and as a result, they can’t trust you. This will put an abrupt halt to your business dealings with them. I had to learn this lesson a few times the hard way.

Building trust in Norway takes a long time, so one has to prepare oneself to be patient. This applies to both personal and business relationships you’ll make in the country. This can be one of the toughest things you’ll encounter while doing business in Norway. It’s common for outsiders to feel shut out or excluded while trying to build this elusive trust. This certainly doesn’t help make the cold and dark winters any easier to manage. Just know that once you do build that trust, you can make a friend, a lover, or a business partner for life. Getting there, however, will be a foreigner’s greatest challenge. 

As a foreigner here in Norway, it’s going to be an additional challenge to build this trust. While Norway is a very equal and inclusive country there is some distrust for outsiders here. Perhaps not by society as a whole, but more specifically in the business world. This is not going to be a popular sentiment, but this was my experience at least. The best I can figure is, it comes down to a few things. First, with Norway enjoying 50+ years of economic prosperity, there hasn’t been much pressure to aggressively go global in business. Most businesses here do just fine selling only to the domestic market, especially where they have a monopoly position. So, the oil that has driven that prosperity is by far the largest export business. And since Norwegians prefer Norwegian products over, say, cheaper Chinese products, there’s not much desire to do extensive importing, aside from importing a lot from Scandinavian neighbor countries who share a desire for quality products and similar aesthetics appeal. As a result, Norwegian businesses can sometimes lack experience working with foreigners.

On the rare occasion when I could get a Norwegian to be open to the challenge of working with foreigners, I sometimes got an interesting response. It was along the lines of “Oh yes, another American once came here for business and ripped a few people off” – they would say. When I would press for the American’s name or which company they worked for, curiously the Norwegian could never remember. It’s almost as if the story of a scary foreigner coming to Norway for business is a ghost tale, passed along throughout the years and likely starting with the discovery of oil and increased international interest in Norway. These stories have been used to scare generations of Norwegian workers from opening up themselves too much once independence was firmly established. You can see this further in Norway avoiding joining the EU on several occasions for example. Norwegians would rather do it themselves than be overly dependent or worse, in debt to an outsider.

That’s not to say it’s impossible to get a Norwegian to trust you as a foreigner here. I’ve managed to make it happen a few times, but more often than not, I’ve failed to establish the trust needed in business. Common reasons include being too aggressive, too impatient, but in most cases, it simply comes down to failing to understand Norwegians and their culture. However, when you do establish this trust you’ll feel it. The typical Norwegian will start looking you in the eye and hanging on your words instead of shying away. I wish you the best of luck in this regard – you’ll need it.