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Cultural understanding in a Danish organisation

Demonstrating leadership competency across cultural boundaries is no easy task - our cultural detective, Jane, delves deeper into this topic.

Photographs: Unsplash

Text: Jane Elgård Petersen

Years of cultural nuances have impacted the way civilisation operates. Nuggets of wisdom, passed from generation to generation, come together to form the slowly evolving backbone of a society.

Leaders must understand and embrace the culture of the people they intend to lead, which will bring joy and its own set of challenges. Joy, because you, as a Danish leader, will learn different ways to communicate and cooperate, which can be an eye-opener in a Danish company. However, the challenges can be significant in how we work together – and more time may be needed to solve potential problems.

Danes are among the most congenial of cultures, being neither too aggressive nor passive. They tend to go for a logical line of argumentation. The typical profile of a Dane is that they are tolerant and good listeners. However, do not misjudge them, as they will always focus on the facts. Their casual, laid-back stance does not interfere with their drive to complete the task.

The Danish organisational structure is flat compared to decision-making structures in many other cultures. However, Danes are also known for being blunt. They expect horizontal communication to be taken for granted and the few hierarchical influences that may come into play to be transparent. Heavy persuasion is taboo, and too much lobbying can be met with suspicion.

Managers of all levels share decision-making, troubleshooting, and democratic procedures. Though top managers can exert considerable pressure, Danes are skilful in maintaining a decidedly friendly atmosphere during a discussion.

Networking is always an excellent way to learn more. You can achieve a lot, regardless of your organisational level. It gives you an excellent opportunity to learn more about your new colleagues and open communication to share good ideas. As a manager, it will allow you to utilise these good ideas to help make effective decisions.

"Danes love anecdotes - and we have many of them in Danish. But unfortunately, Danish colleagues, including leaders, often use idioms that can be challenging to translate into English."

Another plus of networking is learning how other departments in the organisation operate so you can ensure the most effective utilisation of all resources across the board. In addition, you will have an excellent opportunity to use the different cultural sectors in the organisation - different approaches can bring new ideas to the table! Locals and internationals can also learn how other organisations make decisions and work with others outside the organisation.

Leaders need to pay attention to what motivates multiple cultures in the company. For example, Danes enjoy a relaxed atmosphere and often use humour. Likewise, there is an expectation that business discussions should be laced with humour.

Danish managers can help newly appointed colleagues (locals and internationals) in their first weeks by letting them introduce themselves and how they handle their given tasks to their colleagues. This will give more insight into how newcomers think, and the new colleagues will feel welcomed and accepted in the company.

Danes love anecdotes - and we have many of them in Danish. But unfortunately, Danish colleagues, including leaders, often use idioms that can be challenging to translate into English. As a result, misunderstandings can happen, which can make the international colleague feel uncomfortable – and a little lost. In this instance, leaders and colleagues must be cautious so that such situations do not occur and that Danish wit and humour are explained in more detail.

With the help of good leaders and supportive colleagues, I believe they will help you navigate the pitfalls and sometimes what might seem like “strange” humour that you might encounter in Danish workplaces. You’re not alone, and it’s not the Danish way to make you feel uncomfortable. So if you’re unsure of something, talk to your colleagues and leaders – and I’m sure you will come to enjoy your new job in no time. God arbejdslyst (enjoy your work).

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