Negotiating Techniques in Norway

There’s probably only one thing Norwegians hate more than having to engage in small talk with their business colleagues. That is having to negotiate with them. The business culture here is typically more non-combative than found in other cultures, especially my dear old America, where we’ll pretty much go to war over anything. During a difficult negotiation with a competitor, Apple founder Steve Jobs once famously replied he was “willing to go thermonuclear war on this”. In Norway they tend to keep the warheads off the negotiation table and prefer to focus on finding a solution that is equally beneficial to both parties. Negotiation is approached more like joint problem solving: everyone should win.

Furthermore, in their deal making and negotiating, Norwegians are very transactional in nature. The deal must feel like both sides win and benefit equally. It has to be a ‘win-win.’ There is little affordance of one side getting preferential treatment, regardless of their status or reputation. In my industry of venture capital, one example of that is how ownership in the companies we invest in is allocated. In most other markets, investors like me receive ‘preferred’ shares because we are taking the majority of the risk. This gives us some additional rights and protections as part of the deal. The business owners receive ‘common’ shares even though they’re doing the majority of the work. That type of lopsided deal doesn’t work in Norway though. So here, I receive common shares just like everyone else. We’re all equal, even when millions of dollars are on the line.

Norwegians approach negotiations in a pragmatic and logical method, usually in a simple list and top down format. As Norwegian negotiate they’ll go through each condition one by one regardless of how large or small that condition may be in the grand scheme of things. This can be frustrating for foreigners who are more accustomed to focusing on the larger deal points during a negotiation. This is, however, your chance to give concessions to the other side on smaller items of your deal. That allows you to further argue for your side on other deal points you feel are more important.

Negotiations should be simple to understand with all known information shared honestly within the group involved. Withholding information or misleading a Norwegian in any way will almost certainly cause a deal to breakdown. Any embellishing of information, data, or financials should never be done. You may find that Norwegians are not overly eager to share extensive information with you unprompted. They of course already have one of the best “poker faces” in the world thanks to their very stoic and Nordic appearances. Couple that with a lack of emotional reactions that certainly benefits them at the negotiation table.

There typically isn’t extensive bargaining or haggling over prices. The Norwegians will tell you that only the Danes do that. As long as the price is considered fair, there will be very little wiggle room a Norwegian is willing to make. They are, however, usually more than able to make some compromises on other non-monetary deal points, as long as you also make similar and equal concessions. When a deal negotiation has reached a point that both parties have made equal sacrifices, it now has the opportunity to close.

Using highly aggressive sales tactics is never recommended when negotiating with Norwegians. In general, any type of conflict is never a good idea in Norway. These people are as peaceful as they are humble. To bully your way into a deal or attempt to intimidate the other side during a negotiation will almost certainly kill the deal. Negotiating in Norway is not an emotional exercise, so raising your voice or losing your cool will cause a Norwegian to lose trust for you. It will also make them avoid engaging with you. And that’s on top of how hard it already is to get them to talk to you!

I should take a moment to say that while Norwegians avoid aggression in business dealing, passive aggressiveness is a well loved national pastime. You could even say that Norwegians excel at being passive aggressive as much as they excel at cross-country skiing. They’re pros! Expertly maneuvering their way through the workplace with subtle comments and smirks. Keeping up with technology, they have even managed to craft extremely passive aggressive online communications, hitting you with that subtle emoji at just the right time to emphasize how they’re being a total prick or a bitch, but not overly rude.

Bringing up previously agreed to terms or aspects of a deal will make you appear to be untrustworthy. Once something has been agreed upon there is rarely room for reconsideration in Norwegian business culture. It’s considered an inefficient use of time and Norwegians will want to avoid adding further complexity to something that is considered resolved. As we have previously discussed, Norwegians are very pragmatic people.

When the deal is done it should be easy for both parties to clearly walk away without additional attachments or risks. Trying to lock Norwegians into long term commitments, especially on your first negotiation, is not recommended. This will no doubt scare them away especially as it pertains to your first business deal with them. Trust and comfort with Norwegians is earned over time and dealings are well segmented between each other.

Norway is also one of the least corrupt countries in the world. So making bribes or even joking about them is never appropriate! This can be something as small as buying a business contact dinner. There is no concept of ‘greasing the wheels’ with a bribe or favor as it exists in many other countries, especially emerging markets.