Communicating the Dutch Way
January 12, 2018
If you’ve ever tried to communicate with business partners from overseas, you know that it’s not as easy as it seems. Even if you have a common language, a lot of the message can get lost in meta-communication. Concepts that mean one thing to you may have a completely different meaning for people from other cultures. Similarly, parts of the message may not even be said but only implied.
Having a business partner in the Netherlands is lucky in this regard. Dutch people, like Americans, are considered low-context communicators. This means that we tend to explain what we want to communicate as clearly as possible, not relying on a common context to submit part of our message.
Despite this, there are still numerous differences in our countries’ business communication styles. As a small business owner, you should be aware of these differences if you want to build a successful relationship with your Dutch business partners.
Dutch business people communicate as direct and straightforward as possible. You can rest assured that you’re not expected to read between the lines; no meaning is communicated through non-verbal signs or obscure gestures.
Some people may even interpret this directness as blunt and impolite. With little to no pleasantries employed, Dutch people get straight to the point and state the facts as they see them. No cushioning, no sugarcoating. This may seem offensive at first, but don’t worry: it’s not personal at all.
Dutch people get straight to the point and state the facts as they see them. No cushioning, no sugarcoating. This may seem offensive at first, but don’t worry: it’s not personal at all
In several cultures, the concept of face is important. It means that a person’s “face” (it could be translated as reputation or integrity) must be preserved in the community and consequently, criticism has to be offered in private. Well, in Dutch culture, this is not an issue. Dutch people are used to speaking their minds wherever it’s necessary. Offering negative feedback and criticism can be done publicly. Again, this is not personal. Many times, colleagues in Dutch businesses criticize each other during meetings, and then grab a sandwich together for lunch. If this happens to you, don’t be offended. It’s nothing personal, it’s simply the way your Dutch business partner is used to expressing themselves.
In fact, this is what your Dutch partners expect from you as well. If you have a concern or a delicate issue you need to mention, don’t beat around the bush. Say it as directly and as matter of factly as you feel comfortable with and let the issue be out in the open.
If you have a concern or a delicate issue you need to mention, don’t beat around the bush. Say it as directly and as matter of factly as you feel comfortable with and let the issue be out in the open
Since Dutch society is egalitarian and merits are earned rather than inherited, Dutch businesses tend to have a flat hierarchy. Managers, small business owners, and supervisors are considered to be one of the team, and not treated with any kind of special respect other cultures tend to have for their bosses.
If you’re doing business with a Dutch partner, expect to be treated fairly but not like royalty.
Since ranking is not important in Dutch businesses, employees are encouraged and even expected to offer their opinions. This means that decision-making is a bit slower than in the US, since all voices have to be heard and all opinions considered. Once the decision is reached, though, implementation follows through quickly and efficiently.
Since Dutch business people appreciate innovative and effective solutions, ask for all payments to be settled through Veem. Whether sending or receiving from the Netherlands, funds are transferred quickly, securely, and as easily as sending an email. Both you and your partner know all the necessary information about the payment (amount, scheduling, fees). And remember, receiving funds in your local currency is the best way to get excellent foreign exchange rates and minimize all associated fees.