Business etiquette in Denmark
A few quick tips on Danish business manners
Guides to business etiquette in Denmark don’t usually focus on arcane points of manners like who sits where and who speaks first: the Danes are too relaxed and egalitarian for that.
What’s most important when it comes to business manners in Denmark is showing the appropriate respect to every individual and every level in the company.
Just greeting the big boss while forgetting to acknowledge his or her team will get you off on the wrong foot.
When you enter a room full of Danish businesspeople, it’s important to introduce yourself individually to each person, making eye contact, and shaking hands if possible.
Focus on group achievements, not individuals
Team spirit and group dynamics are important when offering praise or criticism to your Danish colleagues. Never call someone out or blame them individually in a public forum; if there is a problem, it is the responsibility of the team, and the emphasis is not on who is at fault but how to fix it.
The same is true if you are celebrating success with your Danish colleagues. Celebrate the team, not just the individual you feel made the biggest contribution. Being singled out will make your Danish colleague feel uncomfortable.
Do‘s and Don’ts of business etiquette in Denmark
Danish business manners are recurring theme in Kay Xander Mellish’s book Working with Americans: Tips for Danes.
Do value people’s time
Because the tax system takes so much of their income in order to finance the Danish welfare state, Danes value their time – and their freedom to use their time as they choose – more than they value money or prestige, Kay writes.
That’s why one of the worst breeches of Danish business manners is to arrive late to an appointment or meeting. A Danish 10am meeting really does start at 10:00, and you should be in your seat and prepared to deliver a contribution to the topic at hand.
Don’t be late
Arriving at 10:05 will get you some sour faces, and arriving at 10:15 means colleagues who are deeply annoyed.
Some internationals unconsciously arrive late to show how terribly important they are. “So sorry I’m late…the big boss wanted to talk to me.”
This is not a way to build good working relationships in Denmark. Being on time is a way of building trust with your Danish colleagues, and trust is an important part of business manners in Denmark.
Don’t cancel unless you are ill
It’s also important not to cancel a Danish business appointment (or social appointment) unless you are ill. If your Danish counterpart has set aside time for you, they have given you a bit of their most precious resource.
If you don’t show up or cancel at the last minute, they will be annoyed and a little insulted.
Business etiquette in Denmark: Should you bring gifts?
Some internationals wonder if they should bring gifts to their counterparts when doing business in Denmark.
The answer is no: business gifts are almost never required in Denmark. In fact, they may make your Danish business counterpart uncomfortable. There are strict limits on what they can accept. Denmark is one of the world’s least corrupt countries, and Danes don’t want to feel they are being influenced by a business gift.
If you are invited to a Danish home for a meal, feel free to bring some flowers or perhaps some fancy candy. A bottle of red wine is always appreciated if both you and your hosts drink alcohol.
Danish business manners: Avoid shouting and drama
In Kay’s companion volume, Working with Americans: Tips for Danes she points out that the Danes are very calm people that don’t have a lot of patience for drama.
Some internationals make the mistake of losing their temper or raising their voice when a business deal in Denmark doesn’t go their way. The Danes see this as childish, the sign of a person who cannot control himself or herself and is therefore not very trustworthy.
Unfortunately, the Danish way of expressing frustration with a difficult business deal is usually very dry, sarcastic humor, delivered with a deadpan face. This can confuse internationals, who may have no idea what is going on.
If you’re not sure if whether that your Danish counterpart is saying is sarcastic or a joke, you will have to ask them to clarify.
Having a sense of humor about yourself
Danes also believe it’s very important to have a sense of humor about yourself, which they call “self-irony.”
This can be difficult for some Americans, particularly highly politicized types who are easily offended. A witticism the Danes might take in their stride could have them running to the HR department with a complaint.
(Read more in Kay’s guide to US business culture vs Danish business culture.)