The comfortable silence
"They hate what I’m saying, we are never going to get that deal…" This week, Maija Karhusaari from Finpro talks about the Finnish way of being silent.
I recently wrote a column about Finnish ways of greeting and seating arrangements in business meetings. After reading my piece, my former colleague from the Netherlands pointed out a trait that has made a lasting impression on him – the Finnish silence. And that is what I’m writing to you about now. The comfortable silence is a phenomenon that you will become accustomed to when you do business in Finland.
The topic comes up in quite many conversations with people from other countries. Some are in awe that we are silent, whereas others suffer from the uncomfortable social situation it creates for them. Regardless of the take one has on it (and there really is no right or wrong approach), the phenomenon of the Finnish silence is very real.
But what is it, exactly? Finns have an extremely high tolerance for silence, and there is a cultural appreciation of keeping quiet rather than engaging in idle chat to fill the air. When we choose to speak, it is generally to the point and very honest. With Finns, you can expect very little small talk.
In a business context, this means that in meetings there are very few interruptions and there can be long pauses. Imagine giving a presentation, and nobody asks you a question or comments on what you say. Even the facial impressions may seem indifferent. You are thinking that They hate what I’m saying, we are never going to get that deal… Finally, you hear the lame words, “That was interesting, thank you”.
What happened was that Finns were showing you respect by paying attention and listening, and they were comfortable in the situation. There was no need to ask empty questions.
When it comes to your presentation, either you missed the mark completely or you actually gave a very interesting presentation. I would put my money on the latter, because they did say it was interesting. When a Finn finally decides to say something, it generally comes from the heart.