How much do you match the Dutch business culture? (Part 1)

Published by Ngoc Tran on

Intercultural awareness has become much more important because of the growing trend of globalization and localization. It does sound contrasting, but not really. These days, we have more chances to learn about the world besides our comfort zone, so developing a global mindset is essential to accept differences and grow together. On the other hand, the question is to what extent a human wants to integrate into a new society feeling like a “local” there while maintaining his original nature?

This is extremely important when it comes to doing international business (e.g. doing business in the Netherlands). When a person tries to integrate into a new society, he may want to get rid of or change part of his original nature. When there are too many changes, he may not be able to maintain his original nature which was influenced by where he was brought up and living and which also makes him unique and different from others. Most importantly, people are not that flexible (tend to be unwilling to change) as we think, but interestingly we (always) say that we aim for continuous learning. Then, why not starting to learn something about our neighbour countries and spread this knowledge to others today? So, let’s get started with…the Netherlands – what is the Dutch business culture?

Firstly, one of the noticeable things about this business culture is Equality. This is related to the term “power distance”, defined by Hofstede as “the extent to which the less powerful members of organizations accept and expect that power is distributed unequally”. The Dutch business culture can be described as egalitarian, meaning that everyone is treated equally and acts like one of the team. Therefore, if you come from a culture where a hierarchy is valued, you maybe shocked how informal Dutch colleagues are with each other. Likewise, the Dutch colleague may understand you wrongly too. For example, a person from a hierarchical culture would think the Dutch peer as a weak and incompetent leader while the Dutch one may confuse why he is treated like a king or being asked for a constant approval. This is often missed until the balloon is close to be exploded. So, how to deal with this distinction? Meyer (2014) proposed a few tips on working with people from an egalitarian or a hierarchical society, which is illustrated in Table 1 below. (By the way, Dutch people don’t like to be called a boss or treated as a boss 😉).

Table 1. Working with people from an egalitarian or a hierarchical society (Newsroom, 2018)

Working with egalitarian and hierarchical society

Secondly, this links with the first characteristic, which is Directness. Don’t be surprised if you are criticized by the manager publicly. The fact is that your Dutch colleague doesn’t mean anything personally to you, despite the case that he is rude or not tactful; a Dutch person is simply straightforward and says the truth. However, this also means that many of them haven’t developed an antenna for implicit ways of showing their opinions. Furthermore, they may not pick up on your attempts to show what you think or feel. People from the Randstad (Amsterdam, Rotterdam, Den Haag, and Utrecht) tend to be harsher than from other regions. How to learn to accept this trait?

  • Firstly, remember this: ”If a Dutch person says you have done a good job, you definitely did!”. No doubt. And think: “Do you prefer to hear a truth or a compliment and then something different behind your back?”
  • Secondly, do you know that Dutch people generally have no problem laughing about themselves if you (or even they) make a joke about themselves. In some cases, don’t take things too seriously and just be easy going!
  • Lastly, try to keep an open mind and know that you have the right to speak up your mind when you feel that they have crossed your limitation.

After learning about the two main features of the Dutch personality you can answer the question: How much do you match the Dutch business culture? Or if you have worked in the Netherlands, please feel free to share your opinion and tips that you used to handle cultural difficulties. Much appreciated!

A bonus tip for you who read until this point: Some reasonable topics that you can bring up at a small talk with a Dutch colleague in the start: sport (e.g. football, racing, Tour de France), weather, recent news, pets, politics, transport (e.g. train), hobbies, free time in the weekend, etc.

The fundamental trick that helps you to be successful in dealing with different cultures is to equip yourself with a growth mindset and always remind yourself of that 😊. Thank you for reading and I see you in the next blog!

Recommended reading:

Erin Meyer, (2014) The Culture Map

Newsroom (2018) https://investopress.com/dutch-companies-import-business-services

https://businessculture.org/western-europe/business-culture-in-netherlands/

https://business.gov.nl/coming-to-the-netherlands/living-in-the-netherlands/the-dutch-culture-and-business-climate/

https://www.nlalumni.nl/dutch-business-culture/#:~:text=Dutch%20workplaces%20revolve%20around%20meetings,of%20various%20levels%20of%20seniority.

https://www.bakermckenzie.com/-/media/files/insight/publications/2020/02/doing-business-in-the-netherlands-20202021_v2.pdf

Image source: https://investopress.com/dutch-companies-import-business-services

Series The Dutch business culture


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