Dutch Communication Styles

Respect is shown through speaking one’s mind and being direct. Little respect is given to those who appear devious or underhand in what they are saying.

This directness of approach can sometimes be misconstrued as aggression or even rudeness – but is, rather, a useful tool for enabling the meeting to reach an agreed solution.

Paradoxically, due to the consensual nature of decision making in the Netherlands it can be sometimes difficult to get a straight ‘yes’ or ‘no’. This seeming unwillingness is more a sign of no decision having been yet reached than any subtle politicking.

It is important to appear unpretentious. Whatever you are, do not think of yourself as something special. Therefore self-promotion of the type that might be found in the USA is seen as being distasteful and will probably be thought of as arrogant.

Although humour is often used in business situations, it is not all-pervasive and discussions are often very serious with irony or sarcasm being interpreted as lack of commitment.
Remember that even though the Dutch speak very good English, much humour is culturally-based and unintelligible to other cultures.

A brief overview of some key concepts to consider when doing business in the Netherlands

Written and Produced by Keith Warburton

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If you are currently doing business in Europe it is likely that you will have had some contact with the Dutch. This is mainly due to the pre-eminence of Rotterdam as a port and its position as the gateway to the European Union. This fact reflects the Netherland’s history of one of the great trading nations of the world and also accounts for the fact that the Netherlands has more global, world-class companies than you might expect from a country with such a small population and geographic spread.

The Netherlands is international in its outlook – it always has been. Countries with small domestic markets need to look abroad almost as a matter of national survival and the Netherlands is a prime example of this. The Dutch want to trade – why not with you?

Given the Netherlands’ central position in European business life, it probably follows that you should consider doing business there and that doing business in the Netherlands might also help you to springboard into other European Union countries.

A word of caution though – just because the Netherlands has a long history of international business and the Dutch typically speak excellent English doesn’t mean you don’t need to develop a good understanding of local Dutch business culture. The Dutch can’t be all things to all men and when in Amsterdam you should maybe think about adapting to the local way of doing things. Dutch business culture is just as strong, distinct and all pervasive as in any other country and you are well-advised to do some research before you arrive in-country.

This country profile provides an overview of some of the key aspects of Dutch business culture in a concise, easy to follow-format. The document includes information on:

  • Background to business
  • Business Structures
  • Management style
  • Meetings
  • Teamwork
  • Communication
  • Women in business
  • Entertaining
  • Top tips