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Doing business the Dutch way

I spent a lot of my professional life working in different countries before settling down in Germany. Being Dutch myself, I’ve been regularly surprised at being called blunt and likewise, frustrated by people not simply saying what they mean when they had something to say. Since joining Target Training, I’ve gained a better insight into different cultures, through international colleagues and tools such as the IAP. 

The Dutch are known to be direct, sometimes blunt and always forthcoming with their opinions (even when not asked) in business, just like they are in their personal lives. They don’t ‘beat around the bush’ or ‘mince their words’. This behaviour can be perceived as rude by foreigners, but in the Netherlands it’s highly appreciated when people say what they mean in as few words as possible.

Point out mistakes

When doing business with the Dutch, don’t be afraid to point out a mistake. More likely than not, you’ll actually gain the respect of your Dutch colleagues / business partners if you do so. At the very least they’ll appreciate that you’re giving them the opportunity to correct the mistake that you’ve spotted.

Give your opinion

Giving your honest opinion is a virtue in the eyes of the Dutch. Even if you completely disagree with what they say, it’s better to share your thoughts than to keep them to yourself – and be direct. Business meetings and discussions focus on reaching consensus, not top-down decision making. Everybody gets to have their say. Once a decision is made, the Dutch tend to stick to it.

Are you looking for cultural insights?

Read the first part of this series of articles: How the British handle difficult questions.

Do you have specific questions about how to deal with international colleagues or partners? Or, have you gained cultural insights through your work in different countries? Let us know!

More about our intercultural seminars or the IAP.


Actions speak louder than words

The Dutch don’t put a huge value on titles or the amount of money you might make. Though they value education, having a number of letters in front or behind the name on your business card (prof. dr. , etc.) won’t get you the respect this automatically gets you in other cultures. Regardless of your status, they will tell you what they think if you ask for their opinion or input. They expect you to do the same. If you can prove that you ‘know what you’re talking about’, you’ll earn their professional respect. You may the boss of a company, you are still expected to know how the coffee machine works!

More tips on dealing with the Dutch

  • Avoid superiority or being overpowering. Try to reach consensus by negotiation rather than by instruction and respect the opinions of others.
  • When you meet a Dutch business partner or colleague in person, shake hands with everyone else in the room too (even the team assistant who is only there to take notes) and when you leave, shake hands again with everyone in the room. This is regardless of meeting for the first or the tenth time.
  • Don’t be overly polite or too nice. To the Dutch, these are suspicious behaviours and may cause irritation and may be seen as insincere.
  • Don’t be surprised (or insulted) when your working lunch consists of a cheese or a ham sandwich. A “broodje kaas” or “broodje ham” are staples of the Dutch lunch (often accompanied by a glass of milk or buttermilk). Anything more than that is seen as overly excessive.
  • Don’t expect compliments (or give them) at every opportunity. You may have come up with a solution to world hunger, or a complex business problem, or even saved the company a ton of money by making a small change in an operational process – “good job” is about as much as you’ll hear from them, if anything. Saying more than that when giving a compliment is perceived as embarrassing. However, you can see silence as a compliment – remember, your Dutch colleague or partner will point it out if there’s something “wrong” with your work.
  • Don’t talk business after business hours. To the Dutch, there’s time for work and time for ‘play.’ If you need or want to discuss business after hours, make sure your Dutch partners/colleagues agree to discuss business during ‘play’ time.
  • Avoid exaggerating about your products, services or experience. To the Dutch, these should speak for themselves.
3 replies
  1. David Seaman
    David Seaman says:

    I am learning Dutch and also believe you need to understand their mindset, thanks for the yours points
    Giving an honest opinion is the the big one, based on both my businees and social experience with the Dutch.
    I also think that Dutch females, value this more, than their male counterparts

    • Brenda van Seters
      Brenda van Seters says:

      Hi David,
      There’s a famous saying you may know: Doe maar normaal, dan doe je al gek genoeg (act normal, that’s already crazy enough). It’s how the Dutch approach every aspect of normal life and it reflects also in how they do business. That one sentence explains a lot about the Dutch mindset – if you’d have to put it in one sentence only.
      Thanks for your comment and good luck with learning the language.

  2. Will
    Will says:

    There are some really useful tips here so thank you Brenda.

    Could I just add that many Dutch people speak excellent English, which can be daunting for those who find English difficult.

    If you find yourself feeling slightly lost when participating in a meeting with Dutch people who have a higher level of English than yourself, my advice would be to really make sure you’re clear of what is being said. Do not hesitate to use checking and clarifying language like:

    Stefan, I didn’t catch that – could you repeat it?

    Please would you slow down a little bit?

    So in other words, what you’re saying is…

    By showing that you are interested in what they are saying, they are more likely to treat you as a competent professional. So don’t think that you will embarrass yourself; more likely you win their respect.

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