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4 tips for navigating Dutch business culture

As an open and internationally minded economy, business culture in the Netherlands rarely differs from other Western European or developed nations. Furthermore, most Dutch people possess a tolerant, down-to-earth mindset that is welcoming of foreigners and makes the country an easy place to do business.

That said, there are certain subtleties and nuances to be aware of when working with local companies and professionals in the Netherlands. Here are our top tips for navigating Dutch business culture the right way.

1. Be direct

The Dutch like to get to the point. Communication is direct and clear; whereas an Englishman would politely reply that something sounds “interesting”, the Dutch will provide their honest opinion – whether good or bad. This is especially important to know in business.

Bluntness can be misinterpreted as rudeness or signs of a personal disagreement. But, in the Netherlands, it’s usually purely about efficiency and rarely personal. So, don’t take offence at ‘honest’ emails or phone calls – and don’t be afraid to be just as direct when you need to be.

2. … but respectful

The Dutch have no problem speaking, reading and writing in different languages, especially English. No one is surprised – or offended – if you don’t speak Dutch, which makes the country highly accessible to foreigners. Nevertheless, the Dutch are fiercely patriotic and proud of their country. So criticizing the Netherlands – or its customs and work practices – is best avoided, even as a joke.

3. Stay on the same level

Many countries – the UK or Japan, for instance – still have rigid social and generational hierarchies in place that extend to daily working life. In contrast, Dutch society puts a high value on equality and democracy. Everyone starts on a level playing field; people treat each other with respect and don’t appreciate being bossed around.

When working with Dutch colleagues or partners, it’s important to avoid talking down – or up – to those around you. This can take some getting used to; however, you’ll always know where the other person is coming from.

4. Respect personal time

Dutch employees possess an excellent work ethic. From elementary school onwards, people are motivated to work hard and succeed. This is definitely a factor in the country’s high workplace productivity levels. At the same time, people place great value on family life and their time outside the office is important. Respect your partners and colleagues’ weekends and vacation time and keep requests and correspondence within office hours as much as possible.

Want to know more?

At Bol International, our international team of expert advisors has vast experience helping businesses and employees from all over the world to work and prosper in the Netherlands. Contact us by filling in the form for support and advice on a wide range of issues.