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Working in Denmark: Danish Business Culture

Danish business culture is characterized by a strong sense of equality and a low power distance between different layers of the corporate hierarchy.

The boss’s door is usually open and he or she is available for a chat with employees of any job level.

Job titles are rarely used and thought rather pompous.

It’s considered OK to disagree with your boss, even in front of others in a Danish business meeting.

Danish business culture is more relaxed than Swedish business culture or German business culture. In fact, people from those countries can be frustrated by the relaxed Danes.

Even when a conclusion is reached via consensus in Danish business culture, it can be changed the next day if new or better information emerges.

Danish business culture depends on a great deal of openness and trust. If you make a mistake, your Danish business partners will expect that you admit your error immediately and get started fixing the problem.us denmark cultural differences

Denmark and the USA, Stories about life in Denmark, Working in Denmark: Danish Business Culture

Working with Danes: Tips for Americans – Get the book!

Working with Danes: Tips for Americans, Kay Xander Mellish’s new book, is now available in print and eBook form.

Denmark is a great place to do business. Infrastructure is superb, corruption minimal, and the Danes sincerely enjoy a good business deal.

Yet when Americans arrive with their burning ambition and enthusiasm, they sometimes experience tensions with the modest, calm, practical Danes.

This book is a companion volume to last year’s popular book, Working with Americans: Tips for Danes.

Working with Danes: Tips for Americans covers aspects like:

📘 Two words to better understand your Danish colleagues
📘 The sacred value of time
📘 Danish names
📘 Flexicurity and unions
📘 Americans, turn down the volume!
📘 Selling to Danes
📘 The Danish calendar, and holiday weeks to avoid
📘 Managing Danes
📘 Jante Law, and why Danes sometimes underplay their skills
📘 Rating systems, and why Danes and Americans rate things differently
📘 Denmark is not just Copenhagen
📘 Differing concepts of privacy
📘 Gender equality in Denmark
📘 Danish meetings
📘 Don’t say “let’s have lunch” unless you mean it

And much more.

The book also includes tips on dining, driving, and diversity in Denmark, plus tips on what to wear, how to give gifts, and why someone might put a Danish flag on your desk on your birthday.

It also includes a short section with ideas for how to prepare for long-term stays in Denmark.

Flip Book Working with Americans Working with Danes

You can get this book and all of Kay Xander Mellish’s books, including the flip book Working with Danes: Tips for Americans/Working with Americans: Tips for Danes on our webshop, or at Amazon, Saxo, Google Books, Apple Books, Barnes & Noble Nook, or via our webshop.

Or follow Kay on LinkedIn.

Stories about life in Denmark, Working in Denmark: Danish Business Culture

How to listen to the “How to Live in Denmark” podcast

Little-known fact: This website originally started out as the transcripts for the How to Live in Denmark podcast, which has been running since 2013.

The transcripts became so popular that they were collected into a book, How to Live in Denmark, and then the basis for the my series of How to Live in Denmark events, which I offer all over Denmark and internationally as well.

When I noticed that the podcasts and blog posts about working in Denmark seemed to be the most useful, I collected them into another book, How to Work in Denmark, which is also available as a live How to Work in Denmark presentation.

But what if you just want to listen to the podcast?

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Denmark and the USA, Events, Working in Denmark: Danish Business Culture

Book a ‘Working With Americans’ presentation

Danes grow up watching U.S. movies and T.V. shows and listening to U.S. music, so they sometimes assume they ‘know’ how to work with Americans – but that’s not always true.

In this presentation, Kay Xander Mellish – an American who has lived in Denmark for more than a decade – talks about how Danes can survive and thrive when working with the multicultural, competitive, sometimes excitable Americans, and how Americans can understand Danish priorities and the culture of dry, sometimes aggressive humor and Jantelov. Kay is personally familiar with some of the misunderstandings that can take place when Danes and Americans work together.

‘We are an international marketing team with people working together across the Atlantic with offices in Copenhagen and Minneapolis. We were very happy to have Kay run a session with us that in an entertaining and interactive way provided insights into the differences and similarities between the US and Danish cultures – and how these impact the collaboration and interaction between our teams. We had a lot of fun and at the same time we are now able to talk more openly about who we are and why we behave in certain ways in our daily collaborative situations we find ourselves in.
– Lars Kristian Runov, CMO, Siteimprove A/S.

A trained journalist and a former member of the communications staff at Danske Bank, Carlsberg Breweries and Saxo Bank, Kay Xander Mellish runs her own communications consulting business in Copenhagen, Denmark. She is behind the podcast series ‘How to Live in Denmark’ and is the author of the books Working with Americans: Tips for Danes, How to Work in Denmark and How to Live in Denmark.

Book an event
If you represent a company or organization and would like to have an American keynote speaker in Denmark make a presentation to your group, contact Kay via this site’s contact form for more information.

Alternately, you can read more about all of Kay’s events on the How to Live in Denmark events page.

Flip Book Working with Americans Working with Danes

Buy Kay Xander Mellish’s new book, Working with Danes: Tips for Americans/Working with Americans: Tips for Danes on our webshop, or at Amazon, Saxo, Google Books, Apple Books, Barnes & Noble Nook, or via our webshop.

Or follow Kay on LinkedIn.

Denmark and the USA, Stories about life in Denmark, Working in Denmark: Danish Business Culture

Tips for Danes working with Americans, and Americans working with Danes

As an American who has lived in Denmark for more than 10 years, I’m often asked for tips by Danes working with Americans.

It’s usually the smartest people in the organization who ask the question: others seem to assume that because they speak great English and have watched every episode of “Friends” or “Breaking Bad” they have a good enough handle on the American culture way of doing business. As the great American composer George Gerwshin once wrote, “It ain’t necessarily so.”

Here are a few tips taken from my new book “Working with Americans: Tips for Danes“, which is available on Amazon, Saxo, Google Play, iTunes, and from our own webshop.

Fear of lawyers and lawsuits

U.S. companies and employees live in constant fear of litigation. When I first arrived in Denmark, I remembered being shocked at traditions that could make an American liabilities lawyer rich. Whether it was bonfires at a børnehave, hot coals to warm your hands on at Tivoli, or drunk studenter falling off the back of trucks, I couldn’t help thinking about how a stupid or careless person might injure himself and sue.

American businesses think about this all the time, since they have two things on their mind: how to stay in business at a profit, and how to avoid litigation, since the second can make the first impossible. Every business decision, every product development or marketing technique, every hiring and every firing, has to be looked at through the lens of : Can we be sued for this?

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Events, Working in Denmark: Danish Business Culture

Book a “How to Work in Denmark – Do’s and Don’ts of Danish work culture” presentation

Why, foreigners wonder, do Danes introduce themselves by simply stating their name, instead of explaining their position and job function?

Why does the big boss ride a bike to work when he could certainly afford a car?

And why does he help clear the table after our weekly ‘morgenbrød’? Isn’t that the cleaning lady’s job?

After more than a decade of working in Danish corporations, Kay Xander Mellish is personally familiar with some of the misunderstandings that can take place when Danes and foreigners work together.

Her presentation How to Work in Denmark: Do’s and Don’ts of Danish work culture, which has been delivered for Novo Nordisk, HOFOR, DTU and other major audiences, helps both sides examine their assumptions and move towards a happier working environment. It contains concrete tips both foreigners and Danes can use to make their working relationships better.

A trained journalist and a former member of the communications staff at Danske Bank, Carlsberg Breweries and Saxo Bank, Kay runs her own communications consulting business in Copenhagen, Denmark. She is the author of the book How to Work in Denmark and How to Live in Denmark, and is the voice behind the podcast series.

Book Kay for your group
If you represent a corporate or community group and would like to have Kay make a presentation about working in Denmark at your location, please get in touch via this site’s contact form for more information. Or read more about Kay’s other events.

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Kay Xander Mellish books

Buy Kay’s books about Denmark on Amazon, Saxo, Google Books, Apple Books, Barnes & Noble Nook, or via our webshop.

Denmark and the USA, In the Media, Working in Denmark: Danish Business Culture

Tips for Working with Americans in Børsen

In a recent edition of the Danish business newspaper Børsen, Kay Xander Mellish offered seven “Tips for Working with Americans“.

“I hear it again and again when I speak to my clients who deal with American colleagues, customers and suppliers: We thought the cultures were pretty much alike, but they’re not,” Kay writes in Danish.

“The US is a high-risk, high-reward culture that can seem both exhilarating and cruel to a Dane raised on social cohesion, trust, and safety. And American business culture reflects both the excitement and energy and unforgiving nature of American life.”

Tips for working with Americans
In the Børsen article, Kay offers several tips from her new book Working with Americans: Tips for Danes.

Act enthusiastic.The cool, controlled behaviour and flat speaking voice that signify a mature adult in Denmark can be misinterpreted by Americans as disinterest or even boredom. Americans live life with an exclamation point. If you want Americans to get excited about your product, you will need to act as enthusiastic as they do.

Think big. Danes sometimes make the mistake of “thinking small” when going into a negotiation and focusing only on the potential deal at hand. But their American counterparts may not want to limit themselves. They may think bigger, bigger, bigger. In American business as American life, you can always go much lower or much higher, in price or in scope. Be prepared for upselling if the opportunity presents itself.

Give positive feedback. Danes often take the approach that “We hired you to do a job, you’re doing it, and we’ll let you know if there is a problem.” But Americans raised on a culture of constant positive reinforcement often perceive this as “You only call us when something goes wrong.” Keep your US employees and suppliers happy by adopting the habit of regular appreciation for everything that goes right.

Avoid sarcasm and Danish humor. Humor is always tough to export, and the Danish conviction that everyone should be able to make fun of themselves can clash with American sensitivities in a politically correct age. Sarcasm is another risk – the Americans probably won’t understand it and it could get you branded as a negative person, one of the worst things to be in American eyes.

Set specific targets and outline assignments. Danish employees like a feeling of independence, of being given a project outline and trusted to finish it well and on time. American employees are accustomed to clearer instructions and goals. Some may find the Danish approach refreshing, but most will find it nebulous and confusing. Americans also expect more monitoring. If you’re not watching them, some employees will take the opportunity to goof off.

US customers expect high availability. If you’re dealing with a US customer or business partner, don’t count on them to be understanding when you take an extended Danish-style summer vacation and they can’t reach you. In the US, the customer is king and convenience is queen, so if you make access to you or your product too difficult, competitors may see an opening. Limited “telephone times” like in Denmark don’t work; you need to be available at any time within working hours, and sometimes outside them.

Hierarchy is a part of the meritocratic culture. One aspect of American life Danes don’t always understand is how hard it is to make to the top, even for people who come from a relatively privileged background. Once a man or a woman has become a boss, they want the respect and the power that comes with that position. They like their titles, and they’ll often make decisions on their own, without seeking consensus from their team.

Before you go, study the differences
The most important thing to remember is that even though the US and Denmark have a lot in common – like a lack of patience with formalities, and the love of a good deal – the business cultures are very different. Study those differences and plan how you’ll handle them before you go.

Read the original article in Danish.

Flip Book Working with Americans Working with Danes

Buy Kay Xander Mellish’s new book, Working with Danes: Tips for Americans/Working with Americans: Tips for Danes on our webshop, or at Amazon, Saxo, Google Books, Apple Books, Barnes & Noble Nook, or via our webshop.

Book Kay for a Working With Americans presentation for your group or organization.

Or follow Kay on LinkedIn.

Image mashup credit: Kay Xander Mellish 2021

Read more:
Tips for Danes working with Americans, and Americans working with Danes

Books, Denmark and the USA, Stories about life in Denmark, Working in Denmark: Danish Business Culture

Working with Americans: Tips for Danes – Get the book!

Working with Americans: Tips for Danes, my new book, is now available!

Many Danes work for companies that are US-owned or have US divisions. Others deal with American colleagues on the telephone or online every day. Some even travel to the US to meet customers, suppliers or colleagues.

Because Danes speak great English and are exposed to so much American TV, movies, and radio, they tend to think that they have a handle on the American culture and way of doing business.

As the great American composer George Gershwin once wrote, “It ain’t necessarily so.”

Working with Americans: Tips for Danes covers aspects like:

  • What should you expect in meetings and negotiations with Americans?
  • How can you make small talk with your American colleagues – and which topics should you avoid?
  • What do American employees really want from a manager?
  • Why do your US customers expect you to be available all the time?
  • Why won’t American employees go outside their job descriptions?

Book an event
If you represent a company or organization and would like to have an American keynote speaker in Denmark make a presentation to your group, contact Kay via this site’s contact form for more information.

Alternately, you can read more about all of Kay’s events on the How to Live in Denmark events page.

Flip Book Working with Americans Working with Danes

Buy Kay Xander Mellish’s new book, Working with Danes: Tips for Americans/Working with Americans: Tips for Danes on our webshop, or at Amazon, Saxo, Google Books, Apple Books, Barnes & Noble Nook, or via our webshop.

Or follow Kay on LinkedIn.

Read also:
Tips for Danes working with Americans, and Americans working with Danes
Danish Managers and American Managers: 5 big differences
Tips for Working with Americans in Børsen
US and Denmark: The enthusiasm gap
Amerikansk foredragsholder Kay Xander Mellish

Stories about life in Denmark, Working in Denmark: Danish Business Culture

Motivating Danish employees: Tips for Foreign Managers

When you’re not from Denmark, understanding the way Danes think can take a little time. And if you’re an international manager in charge of managing and motivating a group of Danes, you may not have a lot of time to experiment before you’re expected to produce results.

So I wanted to share some of the tips I gave to a group of international managers recently on motivating Danish employees.

Motivating Danish employees is very different than motivating other groups of people because there are two big factors missing – hierarchy and fear.

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Stories about life in Denmark, Working in Denmark: Danish Business Culture

Will I ever be promoted? Plus, how to leverage your annual review

Foreigners in the Danish workplace tend to be clustered at the very top of companies – several of Denmark’s largest firms have Dutch or Norwegian CEOs – or at the very bottom, in entry-level service positions.

Even skilled workers like engineers and nurses are more likely to be found in hands-on functional roles than in middle or upper management. Berlingske Tidende, one of the country’s major newspapers, publishes a list of the Top 100 upcoming business talents every year, and at least 90 of them are ethnic Danes.

Some companies like to talk a lot about their open-mindedness, but in practice believe that only Danes are really capable of managing other Danes. Language certainly plays a role, and foreigners are also seen as unable to understand the Danish national psychology and secrets of employee motivation.

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Stories about life in Denmark, Working in Denmark: Danish Business Culture

Never lose the trust of a Dane: Lies, corruption, and when to give birthday presents

Trust is so natural to the Danes and such an integral part of their culture that it is like the water fish swim through: even though it’s all around them, they barely notice it’s there.

As a foreigner, if your culture has a different outlook on honesty and trust, it’s important to adapt to the Danish way for as long as you’re in Denmark. If the Danes decide they can’t trust you, you might as well pack your suitcases and go home. Once you lose the trust of a Dane, it’s like losing your virginity: you’ll never get it back.

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