Doing business in Denmark

 

Doing business in Denmark can be a pleasure for internationals: the Danish business culture prizes transparency, trustworthiness, and innovation. Yet Danish business manners aren’t always clear if you come from abroad.

Should you bring a gift for your Danish business contact? How much small talk is required before you get down to a business deal in Denmark? Does Danish business etiquette require you to treat men and women differently, or show special respect for the management team versus other employees?

Kay Xander Mellish is a cultural trainer and speaker based in Copenhagen, Denmark who offers tips on working in Denmark for internationals. Kay is a US-Danish dual citizen and the author of  “How to Work in Denmark” and “Working with Americans: Tips for Danes.”

 

Denmark’s workplace culture reflects the flat hierarchy and egalitarianism Danes value so highly. In practice, this can mean skipping over several layers of management to speak directly to the big boss. This is often not well-received by their counterparts in other business cultures.

Comparing Danish working culture vs Swedish working culture results in a lot of similarities, but a few significant differences. Both countries shy away from hierarchy and rarely use job titles. Both place a strong emphasis on job satisfaction and work-life balance. And both offer extensive benefits to workers, including generous time off to care for children. But Swedes are more consensus-oriented than the Danes, while Danes are more spontaneous and rely more on humor in the workplace.

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.

The cultural differences between the US and Denmark have to do with the countries’ differing histories, differing climates, and different population mixes. As Kay Xander Mellish says in her book “Working with Danes: Tips for Americans”, Danes willingly pay very high taxes in order to support the Danish social welfare state.

“Danes love their cradle-to-grave welfare state. In two decades of living here, I’ve never met a single person who wanted it dismantled, ” writes Mellish, a dual citizen of the US and Denmark. “But it is a commitment, a national commitment. Everyone with the ability to work must work, and must pay substantial taxes, in order to finance the services shared by all. At the same time, everyone accepts that there will be limits on services so there is enough to go around.”

Mellish points out that, for example, annual physicals are unknown in the Danish health system, and that mammograms are given only once every two years starting at age 50, as opposed to every year starting at 40 many places in the US.

Six quick tips for doing business in Denmark:
– Act humble.
– Opt for transparency.
– Respect Danes’ time.
– Don’t be dramatic.
– Avoid business gifts.
– Consider hiring a cultural trainer.

A kvajebajer, or “failure beer” is a Danish tradition. You buy one for all your colleagues when they’ve just seen you make a foolish or avoidable mistake. Another option is a kvajekage, or “failure cake”, which serves pretty much the same purpose without alcohol.

While there are plenty of cultural differences between the US and Denmark, the two cultures do have a lot in common.

Both countries have an economic system based on free market capitalism, both have a strong attachment to their constitutions and the idea of freedom of speech and religion, and both have a reputation for business and technological innovation.

The cultural differences between the US and Denmark have more to do with the countries’ differing histories, differing climates, and different population mixes.

The importance of trust, the value placed on competition, and the acceptance of diversity are some of the cultural differences between the US and Denmark.

Americans and Danes both enjoy a good business deal, but there are significant differences between US business culture vs Danish business culture. The most significant difference is the importance of trust in Danish culture and business culture. As a small country where people generally know each other, it’s easy for the Danes to trust each other, and in business terms this means less monitoring and less record-keeping. Lawsuits and litigation is much less common in Denmark than they are in the US, so Danes spend less time documenting their activities in case of a lawsuit.

Six quick tips for doing business in Denmark:
– Act humble.
– Opt for transparency.
– Respect Danes’ time.
– Don’t be dramatic.
– Avoid business gifts.
– Consider hiring a cultural trainer.