Every country has its unique social rules; its own way of working that may be subtle but which can have a huge effect on how things go when you do business.
Offering a gift could be seen as pushy in one country or good manners in another, when is it permissible to use a first name instead of a title like Mr or Doctor? Holland is no different so Annelies, a member of our Talent Acquisition Team in Amsterdam, put together this guide to give you an insight into Dutch business etiquette and some useful pointers to give you the edge when working with the Netherlands.
Business culture in the Netherlands
Work is a serious business in the Netherlands. Dutch people take pride in working hard, doing a good job for their companies and supporting the people around them. This approach is part of a formal attitude to work which could be seen by some outsiders as being driven by a need to stick to the rules, but in Holland it’s taken for granted that there is a proper way to do things.
Doing things properly includes a strong belief in sticking to the values of honesty, respect and personal responsibility. Punctuality is taken very seriously and being late for a meeting could be perceived by some people that you’re not taking them, or the business at hand, seriously.
So assuming you turned up on time for a meeting what can you expect in a face-to-face meeting? Well be ready for a full and frank conversation, the communication style in the Netherlands is very direct; answers will be clear and calm but be prepared as some people may find the questioning style to be blunt or even slightly rude. The best thing to remember is that the Dutch approach is designed to get the job done and deal with ambiguity, it’s not a reflection on you or your approach, as the old expression says, its only business.
Openness and transparency is highly prized so make a point of emphasising your frankness and honesty. This openness extends to getting everyone’s input, Dutch culture is egalitarian and while rank and title are respected when it comes to making the final decision its not usual for the process up to that point to be very collaborative with everyone expected to have input into the conversation. So be patient, don’t expect immediate answers and factor in a longer than usual decision making process.
Overall it’s good to be aware that the Dutch are a very private people, they prefer to keep their work and personal life separate. You’re unlikely to find much in the way of the lively office banter that is more common outside of the Netherlands and while of course there are social activities like team building events, and Friday afternoon drinks it’s unusual to socialise with colleagues outside of the office.
Do’s and Don’t when doing business in Holland
Here are some pointers when doing business in the Netherlands:
- Be punctual. Being late, missing appointments, postponing, and changing the time of appointments can cause reservations about commitment and can ruin relationships.
- Shake hands with everyone when you're meeting clients and/or colleagues in the Netherlands. Your handshake should be brief and firm and you should repeat your name with each person.
- Only address colleagues, clients and customers by their first name when you've been asked to do so, this is considered common courtesy.
- Respect everyone’s personal space.
- Do not expect much small talk as business negotiations proceed at a rapid pace and are kept strictly formal.
- Use facts in a logical and rational argument to explain your position as this is the way people in the Netherlands like to do business.
- Expect meetings to be formal and direct in manner.
- Be clear when saying 'yes' or 'no' in business interactions. Saying 'yes' when meaning 'no', is considered confusing and unprofessional.
- Don’t mix business with the personal. Try not to ask personal questions as this can be considered rude at times. However, when you've created a strong relationship, it's considered polite to ask questions where appropriate.
- Business in the Netherlands is quite conservative and forceful and business clients can be described as tough negotiators.
- In many companies the decision-making process is slow. Consensus is vital. Conversations will be kept open until all parties agree. Once decisions are made though, implementation is fast and efficient.
- Do not promise anything you cannot deliver. Commitments are taken very seriously and shouldn’t be offered unless they can and will be honoured.
This article is written by Annelies Westerman, Senior Talent Acquisition Consultant, who is based in Amsterdam.
If you are interested in our most recent job openings in the Netherlands, then get in touch with us. We are looking forward to hearing from you.