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Scan Magazine  |  Special Theme  |  Consulting Denmark

Translate your leadership skills Having worked with intercultural integration in the workplace for decades, Danish consulting firm Human House talks to Scan Magazine about potential misunderstandings between cultures. Interestingly, the consultants maintain that even within the Nordic countries, our differences can cause slight hiccups. By Signe Hansen  |  Photos: Human House

How far ahead do we need to plan? What makes a strong leader? Is the main purpose of communication to be efficient or polite? Innately, different cultures will have different answers to these questions, causing potential misunderstandings in a multicultural workplace. Through consulting, courses and global management development, Human House helps cross-cultural management boards and leaders working with and in different cultures to understand and turn potential difficulties into strengths. “What you see is only ten per cent: the language, clothes and posture, it’s the tip of the iceberg. The other 90 per cent you can’t see,” explains consultant Maj Emmertsen. “It’s the norms and values that people have been taught throughout their lives that are most likely to cause difficulties when working across cultures. Most people will be fine with

dressing a bit differently, but when it goes deeper and affects your cultural values, conflicts can arise.”

When strength is seen as weakness In a recent job, Emmertsen worked with a Danish leader who was heading up a production project in Poland. The manager had a management style typical of successful Danish leaders, seeking to create consensus through a flat, inclusive management structure. But before long, his employees began to display a lack of respect towards him; they saw his consensus-seeking leadership as a sign of weakness. Typically occurring when leaders are not aware of, or expecting, cultural differences, this kind of problem is likely to happen even in very similar cultures, explains Emmertsen. “A problem that we encounter again and again is that people

within Scandinavia assume that because we all look the same, eat the same and speak almost the same language, we should act exactly the same. But that’s not how it is. For instance, the Danish directness is often perceived as very rude to more consensus-seeking Swedes, and Danes often experience Norwegians as overly stiff and formal because of their generally politer way of communicating.” However, cross-cultural collaborations should not just be perceived as a potential source of problems. “They are also a potential source of strength, and the first step to move from one to the other is to be aware of, and address, the differences,” Emmertsen concludes. Human House is currently working on an extensive study of cross-cultural integration in the workplace. Interested organisations are invited to take part and should contact Human House directly at


Issue 102  |  July 2017  |  29

Scan Magazine, Issue 102, July 2017  
Scan Magazine, Issue 102, July 2017  

Promoting Brand Scandinavia. Featuring interview with Norwegian actor Rune Temte.