Students from Orestad Gymnasium were invited to join the conversation representing the younger generations from Denmark’s capital Copenhagen.

Danish Communicators Seek to Improve The National Dialogue

TAKEAWAY: Even Denmark — often ranked as the world’s happiest country — is facing issues that threaten to fray its legendary social cohesion. So why not mobilize the nation’s communications experts to convene people and get them engaged in solutions? The Danish professional society known as K1 is doing just that, equipping its members to help Denmark’s citizens forge a path to a sustainable future.

At the core of the Dialogue Project is the search for best practices in corporate communications that may be applicable to larger society in the collective search for solutions. This includes harnessing the skills, knowledge and abilities of the nation’s organizational communicators. 

Denmark is emerging as a model to follow. The nation’s largest society of organizational communicators, known as K1, has new, national program to have its members guide their companies and local communities in reflective conversations. The goal is to build national consensus on how Danes should approach systemic issues. This initiative, called The Meaningful Society, will help Danish citizens co-create solutions in harmony with the nation’s values. 

K1 embarks on this initiative from a good place. Denmark is routinely ranked in the top three happiest nations by the UN’s annual report (The USA is ranked 19th). Denmark has one of the world’s most advanced welfare states, a record of income equality, low rates of crime and corruption, a bustling business environment and a widespread sense of comfortable conviviality, known as hygge. All of these contribute to Denmark’s national cohesion, and all are rooted in the degree of trust Danish citizens have in each other, and in their shared institutions. Denmark is among the relative handful of nations where people feel they have both a high degree of freedom and a high-functioning government. 

The idea is to start now on consensus solutions before issues blossom into much more difficult and polarizing problems to solve.

However, Denmark faces important issues of sustainability and has seen a rise in confrontational dialogue, particularly around immigration, climate change, and pressures on its welfare society. K1’s The Meaningful Society initiative will deploy the organization’s 350 members to reach out to Danish citizens and give them a new channel for reflective conversation, and subsequent collective action. The idea is to start now on consensus solutions before issues blossom into much more difficult and polarizing problems to solve. 

Initial training of K1 members will include simple but effective ways to build unity (such as singing together) and methods of encouraging empathic listening and cross-generational dialogue. Training will also go many steps further, to help K1 members apply an advanced approach, known as Theory U, to the challenges of meaningful dialogue.  

Pioneered by MIT’s Otto Scharmer, Theory U provides a framework for reflecting on one’s opinions, listening to others and integrating their points of view, and then, co-creating solutions to the problem at hand. Theory U is named after the descent-ascent course of Scharmer’s thinking and was originally designed to help leadership teams gain trust in each other and solve problems together. Applied to reflective conversations, Theory U takes participants through four fields of dialogue, each leading to more productive exchanges of thoughts and ideas—and eventually to collective action. Here’s the sequence: 

  • In Field One, usually the starting point, participants are polite to each other, but do not say what they really think. Often, they say what they believe others want to hear. 
  • In Field Two, people take the opposite approach. They are often forcefully outspoken and give voice to their beliefs. They may dig in and argue their positions from hardened points of view. 
  • In Field Three, called reflective inquiry, skilled facilitation begins to soften positions and move the communication from back and forth exchanges to active, empathic listening, and a willingness to hear others’ points of view. 
  • In Field Four, the participants pursue collective creativity, and the dialogue is channeled towards the co-creation of solutions and other positive steps for the future. 

Obviously, this level of facilitation is not in everyone’s skill set. Those in the profession of organizational communicators, however, often have the skills, experience and instincts to put Theory U principles to use. Says Anders Schroll, an expert in organizational communications and head of K1, “Our members have diverse opinions, but they all know how to bring people together and create trust. That’s the nature of their work. They also realize that the best solutions emerge when everyone in the group feels that they have been heard and understood.” 

Starting in September 2020, K1 will begin training its members to convene conversations within their organizations and local communities. The Meaningful Society initiative will have a full rollout in 2021. Says Anders, “We want to help Danes create a sustainable future, one that will endure and benefit people for generations to come.”