Business culture Denmark

In the current era of intensive globalisation, the marketplace is growing at a fast pace. This means expanding business borders and sometimes customising business practices.

The subsections that follow give an overview of Denmark’s business practice to give a comprehensive picture of doing business in Denmark. Regardless of the situation and place, communicating without creating barriers can only be an advantage and bring benefits.

Face-to-face communication

Communication with the Danes is generally informal and marked by humor and goodwill, so try to maintain a modest and low-key approach. It is common for the Danes to maintain some distance and unpretentiousness is a keyword in social interaction. You will rarely hear someone promote themselves or their own skills. On the contrary, people tend to underplay their own role and qualifications.

Danish business people can appear somewhat formal at first, but they are soon likely to show the more informal side of themselves. Most Danes speak to their colleagues with an open heart about their private life. They talk about their family and what they do in their holidays and spare time. However, in meetings they are likely to get down to business right away and are generally conservative and efficient in their approach.

Handshakes (with men, women and children) are the accepted form of greeting and Danes shake hands both for greetings upon arrival and departure from a meeting. Handshakes should be firm and short and eye contact should be maintained while shaking hands. Unlike in the United States, men do not stand when a woman enters or leaves a room. Business cards are exchanged but there is no single correct procedure to do this. Business cards should include the street address of your company, not only the post code. You will find that Danes start to use first names quickly.

However, you should not use first names yourself until you are invited to do so.
Meetings play a crucial role in Danish business culture as they are the most common way to keep people up to date. Danes like to keep it simple and meetings to be short and well-structured – the less paperwork, the better. However, it is still important for Danes that a written agenda is followed and that all the most important agreements and decisions are recorded in a written summary.

Danes have a reputation for being informal and they favour a humorous and extrovert tone at work. Danish workplaces are characterised by an absence of the hierarchical structure found in many other countries. The line of command between the boss and the employees is short, and in principle everyone – regardless of education, position or social status – is regarded as equal. It is common for employees to address their boss by her or his first name. Team work is common and open dialogue is promoted.

The Danes value their bodily integrity. They are not very fond of being touched by strangers (keep a minimum distance of 30 centimeters).

Language matters

The official language is Danish, which is one of the Nordic languages. Danish, Swedish and Norwegian are all very similar and the three languages are understood by each of the country’s populations. English is taught as a mandatory language in elementary school and is spoken and understood by approximately 80 % of the population. English is also used as a corporate language in many of the larger firms. It can even be said that English is a second language for some. Virtually all Danish business people have a good working knowledge of English and interpreters are rarely required. Emails are often written in English from the beginning to make it possible to involve colleagues or partners in other countries. In many sectors, the professional terminology is in English anyway, making the language the natural choice for everyday written communication.

Additionally, some Danes, mainly middle aged people, speak and understand German, young people however, do not learn German as a mandatory language in school anymore.

As stated above, Danish, Norwegian and Swedish are very much alike, and are understood by each of the countries’ populations. German is recognized as a protected minority language in the south of Jutland. French is spoken by one in ten Danes. Here are some useful phrases, which may help you to ‘break the ice’ in informal conversations.

  • Hello: Goddag / Hej
  • Goodbye: Farvel
  • Yes: Ja
  • No: Nej
  • Thank you: Tak
  • What’s your name? – Hvad hedder du?
  • My name is John. – Jeg hedder John.
  • Where are you from? – Hvor kommer du fra?
  • I’m from London. – Jeg kommer fra London.
  • I don’t speak Danish. – Jeg taler ikke dansk.
  • Men: Herrer
  • Women: Damer
  • The city centre: centrum

Business relationship

There are no formal requirements for the formation of a contract. Offers, acceptances and contracts may be made orally, but a written contract is preferable. In the case of a dispute, the courts tend to interpret the contracts subjectively and look behind the wording to find out the original intentions of the parties.

It is important to create a good personal relationship with your business partner in order to reach a decision, although Danes do tend to be quite pragmatic in their business dealings. This would suggest that any shortcomings in personal relationships can be overcome, depending on the facts and good argument.

Making contact

In accordance with Danish society, Danish work environments are seldom based upon hierarchies and formalities between various levels of management and as such, all workers, whether they be the top manager or the cleaner, are considered equally important. Danes are hardworking people and are keen that each minute spent at work is productive and used effectively. It is therefore important to arrive on time for both work and meetings.

Handshakes (with men, women and children) are the accepted form of greeting. Danes shake hands both for greetings upon arrival and departure from a meeting. Business people should not routinely expect to meet with their Danish counterparts after 4 pm on weekdays. Do not plan meetings for Saturdays, Sundays, or on national holidays. Not all Danes appreciate breakfast meetings, which should be scheduled only with due consideration to the particular situation.

Danish business introductions are a formal and solemn exchange. If you are sitting and being introduced to a new contact or associate, be sure to stand up before extending your hand. Offer a firm handshake as you make eye contact. Any effort that you make to include a Danish greeting into your introduction [e.g., “Goddag” meaning “Good Day”] will be appreciated.

Denmark is basically a small and homogeneous country but naturally people living in different parts of the country have their own local identities as well. For instance, people living in the capital are quite distinct from those living in more rural areas. Seen from the outside, however, there are still some distinctive common features among all Danes. Spoken Danish varies considerably in pronunciation from region to region. However, there are not many who still speak pure dialects; most speak variants of them. The dialects are understood by people from other areas. In south Jutland there is a small minority of German speakers.

In many Danish companies, bosses are seen more as team leaders and group facilitators as opposed to being the key decision makers that delegate tasks to others. As such, employees are often encouraged to express their opinions freely at meetings and everyone’s opinion is given consideration when making decisions. However, the final decision ultimately often lies in the hands of the group leader.

Personal titles

It is appropriate to use a person’s title until the use of first names has been indicated as being appropriate. Use professional titles when applicable. Otherwise, use the following Danish courtesy titles. Hr: Mr., Fru: Mrs., Froken: Miss. As outlined above, Danes tend to use first names quite early on in a business relationship.