Business practices and culture
In general, Estonians are reserved people. Expect Estonians to have the typical Northern European-sized interpersonal space bubble – about an arm’s length between people in business situations, whether standing or seated. Estonian jokes are for the most part ironical and disguised. It’s not recommendable to use the term Baltic province, as Estonians, Latvians and Lithuanians are three culturally and historically different nations.
The mentality of Estonians is combined with strong scepticism. That is the reason why Estonian businessmen might need days to mull over and analyse a problem. Indeed, an Estonian does not like feeling rushed. Thus, negotiating an agreement is likely to take longer than it would for example in Western Europe. The key to succeed in doing business with Estonians is politeness combined with the competence. Shaking hands is common.
Women in Business
Estonian women have always considered themselves equal partners with men. Women are respected and they have the same rights as men. Women in Estonia occupy almost every profession in the work force and they are represented in the government as well.
Names and Titles
When meeting an Estonian for the first time, it is proper to address them by using their professional title, not only by their first name. In regular business the use of titles is neither common nor important. You should address Estonians using the last names with mister and miss. Business cards are always exchanged with everybody, so make sure you carry enough with you.
Business suit with a tie will serve well for men, and women often wear a skirt and blouse or pantsuits. Estonians dress more formally in restaurants, when going to a concert or theatre, or even when visiting friends. If travelling during the winter months, be sure to pack warmer clothing for the changing weather. In winter it sometimes gets very cold.
A written invitation for business dinner would normally be sent already one or two weeks before the dinner, a private invitation usually at a shorter notice. The majority of business entertainment is still held in restaurants.
Remember to show up punctually. When going to meet your partners in a restaurant for business dinner, it is not a custom to bring something along. At a more official business dinner top management usually sits on the opposite sides, as they want to have an eye contact with each other.
- Shaking hands is common.
- Deriving from strong Scandinavian values, undue physical contact is unnecessary.
- Punctuality is important in Estonian business.
- Discussions may start with weather, but always end with business or politics. Personal life should not be discussed.
- Although at first glance people may seem reserved and not talkative at all, they are actually very friendly. The reserve and shyness will melt away once you try and talk to the people.
- Jokes are self-ironic and sarcastic.
- Interrupting conversations is very impolite, hence long pauses in conversations are common as the Estonian mentality is combined with scepticism, thus rushing through negotiations is not common – completing negotiations might take longer than in Western Europe, during negotiations honesty and forthrightness are well respected.
- Combine politeness with competence and you are on your way to success in Estonia.
- A number of people in Estonia speak English, but also Finnish, German, and Russian.
- Estonians value their language and culture. They are always very delighted when foreigners know something about it as well.