Meeting etiquette

Denmark flagImportance of business meetings

Business meetings start and end at agreed times and normally hands are shaken both before and after the meetings. Business meetings play a significant role in the Danish way of doing business, as the most common way of keeping people up to date. Danes like to keep it simple and meetings to be short and well-structured with as little paperwork as possible. However, a written agenda will be followed and all the most important agreements and decisions recorded in a written summary to be circulated following the meeting.

Danes are easy-going, flexible and patient in negotiations, and are good listeners known for their ability to secure good deals without making enemies.

There is strict legislation on the topic of business gifts in Denmark. While it is not common to give gifts at business meetings, it is not forbidden either. If it looks as though business is going well, then a very small gift may be given to your contact after agreements have been signed. If you happen to receive a gift in return, feel free to open it in front of the other person rather than waiting.

Business meeting planning

You should always arrange your appointments with your Danish business partners well in advance (at least two weeks before the actual meeting). The most common holiday months for Danes are July and August and therefore you should avoid trying to arrange any meetings at that particular time. In both business and social engagements, Danes are punctual and they expect you to be punctual too. When preparing for a meeting, send an agenda in advance to your Danish business partner. The meetings might begin with some small-talk, but then Danes get straight right to the point. Despite maintaining professional standards of behavior at all times, they are tolerant, relaxed and informal, tending to be quite frank in the way they speak since direct communication is perceived as being sincere and honest.

Organizations differ, but in general there will be a secretary or PA who controls the diary of the manager you are visiting. The best way to set up a meeting is to arrange it with this person, and then call the day before to confirm your attendance. You are advised to check in advance if any resources or equipment that you require are available. This will help prevent delays or embarrassment at the actual meeting.

Danes treasure their leisure time, most of which is spent with their family and would not generally be available for meetings after 4 pm on weekdays.

Similarly, do not plan meetings for Saturdays, Sundays, or on national holidays. Breakfast meetings are not the norm in Denmark and should only be set up if appropriate to the particular situation. Should you wish to discuss business during a meal, lunch time might be the best option. If you are planning to set up a business lunch, it should take place sometime between noon and 2 pm. Remember that long business lunches are uncommon in Denmark.

Meetings are always expected to start and end at the agreed time.

Negotiation process

If you are doing business in Denmark which involves negotiations, come well prepared. The Danes are meticulous when it comes to analyzing information and proposals. Bring a wealth of written information for your Danish counterpart to examine. Presentations should be factual and well-organized. Having the ‘gift of the gab’ will get you nowhere if it is not supported by logical, rational and proven evidence.

They also value a critical approach and will not hesitate to express their dissenting opinions. This is not considered rude in Denmark and you should not be offended by it. Criticism is regarded as something that has to do with one’s work and is not a personal attack. It is possible to have fun together immediately afterwards. It is important to spend some time discussing and arguing with your Danish counterpart to build up the relationship of trust that is necessary before a Dane will enter into an agreement with a new business partner.

There is usually a maximum of 10 minutes of ‘small talk’ at the beginning of the meetings. After that the Danes tend to get to the point quickly and focus intensively on the business at hand.

Meeting protocol

Handshakes (with men and women) are the accepted form of greeting in Denmark. Greet all participants with firm handshakes and direct eye contact upon arrival and leaving. Unlike in the United States, men do not stand when a woman enters or leaves a room.

The Danes are modest people in public. They tend to be very low-key. In order to fit in with their behaviour, subdue yourself a bit, especially if you are animated by nature. The key to being accepted and respected in Denmark is to blend in rather than stand out.

When talking to a Dane, stand at least two arms lengths away to give him or her enough distance and do not touch except when shaking hands.

How to run a business meeting

When running a meeting it is important to remember that the Danes tend to be matter of fact and businesslike in their conduct and they appreciate dialogue and the idea of democracy. It is normal to discuss subjects thoroughly in order to reach an agreement. It is not common – as it is in the US and the UK – to resolve matters by vote. Rather, people discuss in order to achieve consensus and to see matters from all possible perspectives.

Agendas for a meeting are sent out in advance and they are generally adhered to. The Danes are punctual. They do not believe in hierarchy and will not respect it in their business dealings (indeed, this is the only area in which they refuse to compromise). They are easy-going, flexible and patient in negotiations, and are good listeners, known for their ability to secure win – win deals.

Virtually all Danish business people have a good working knowledge of English and interpreters are rarely required.

Follow up letter after meeting with client

The minutes of meetings will be circulated after the meeting has concluded. Action plans of what has been agreed and who is responsible for taking actions will be indicated on the minutes.

In individual meetings, a record should be kept of what was discussed, and the dates items were agreed to be completed by i.e. deadlines. It is important, in order to maintain credibility, that actions are followed up and completed in the timescales agreed. If this is not followed through diligently, it may affect the attendance at future meetings. Many executives will be impressed by a prompt follow up of actions agreed at a meeting.

If you feel that it is appropriate, you can invite your business associates out for a drink. This may be a good time to get to know each other better and build up a stronger relationship.

Business meals

Danes usually have breakfast at home with their families, so they do not expect to conduct any business during this meal. Lunch is the most common mealtime during which to conduct business negotiations and is usually served from noon to 2 pm. Open-faced sandwiches are typical foods for this meal and long business lunches are uncommon. Dinner, the main meal of the day, is served from 6 to 8 pm. The evening meal may consist of meats, fish, vegetables, and dessert. Drinks served with dinner are usually regional beers or wine.

Danes eat most of their meals at home and in private settings, although public dining places ranging from small hot dog stands to fancy restaurants are available and are used. Lunch at a work place, school, or institution is either homemade or available from kitchens or canteens, offering open sandwiches, hot meals, or a buffet table. Lunch may also be bought at butcher’s shops, cafes, and sandwich bars.

If you are invited to a dinner at your business partner’s home, you should bring flowers or a couple of bottles of red wine. If your spouse has travelled to Denmark with you, the invitation will most likely include him or her. If you are invited to dinner, typically, you will be ushered straight to the table. If drinks are served before dinner, however, they will usually be set out in the living room, and will most probably consist of white wine. Drinks are more common after dinner, as is coffee and beer. Expect to remain at the table for a long time. Danish dinners can last as long as four hours. You should not leave the table before your host or hostess as this would appear rude. After the meal, you will probably be expected to stay a while for drinks and conversation.

The dining etiquette is very much the same as in most other European countries. Table manners are Continental. The best rule for most situations is to use common sense, general dining manners and simply follow the host’s / hostess’s lead.

Some restaurants, usually the larger ones, add a service charge. Waiters do not expect a tip, but appreciate one. It is quite acceptable for women to pay the bill in a restaurant and for them to initiate meetings and even social engagements with men.

Smørrebrød (open sandwiches) is possibly the best known dish from Denmark. Basically, it is rye bread that is buttered and covered with sliced meat, cheese, etc. Otherwise, Denmark has made few original contributions to gastronomy. Among those that should be mentioned are wienerbrød (Danish pastry) and kransekage (almond cake rings), æblekage (apple charlotte) with fried breadcrumbs and fruit preserves.

Business meetings tips

Even if the Danes do tend to get straight down to business in meetings, it is still appropriate to start the meeting with about 10 minutes of informal conversation.

Most Danish business people have good skills in English and interpreters are rarely needed.

The Danish mentality can be described by the words “hygge” and humorous. The term “hygge” is difficult to translate, but those seeking to grasp its meaning will discover that it is closely associated with having a good time together and with eating and drinking. Humour is an essential element of everyday living. To many Danes, humour comes with irony which may be difficult for many foreigners to appreciate, but it is absolutely essential if you want to understand the Danish mentality.

It is important for North Americans to know that in Denmark dates are written in the following way: the day first, then the month, then the year [e.g. October 21, 2013, is written 21.10.13.].

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