The scene: 3am at a McDonald’s in Oslo. I had just attended a business event and survived the Norwegian drinking culture. Now it was time to do something us Americans do best: eat a big greasy cheeseburger.
With me were several new Norwegian business contacts I had been in discussions with over the last few months. In their well lubricated state the shyness was gone and thus they eagerly asked:
“So have you ever been cross-country skiing?!”
As I day dreamt about the burger on its way, I thought well I’ve been ‘normal’ skiing many times but I have no idea what cross-country skiing actually is. It sounds like a lot of work to be honest.
“No…” I replied simply.
“Oh then you must join us! It’s amazing! We’ll trek for hours in the freezing snow, take a break to eat a candy bar, and then return!” They explained with much excitement in their eyes.
To me this sounded like an awful way to further get to know each other. How could we work on our business partnership while skiing in a straight line, in the middle of the woods, in total silence? I was not incredibly eager to accept and follow up on their invitation. This was a big mistake on my part, and as a result the business relationship did not go much further.
What I had missed was that for Norwegians an activity like cross country skiing is how business relationships are strengthened. We do a physical activity together and that usually includes some element of suffering or hard work and then after that, we can begin to build trust together. You have to first put in the work to build a solid foundation for your working relationship.