Business Culture in the Netherlands: Starting your business relationship with the Dutch

Attitudes and values form the basis of any culture. They reflect both the way people think and behave. Understanding attitudes and values can therefore be of significant importance if you wish to communicate with your counterparts effectively. Ignorance of these issues can result in a cultural barrier that may inhibit the communication process and have an adverse effect on the success of your activities in any given country.

Business Club Spanje is about sharing knowledge and bringing people and organizations together. People and organizations that have an interest in and between Spain and the Netherlands.

On Thursday 25th of September 2014 we organized our networking event in Amsterdam. The theme for the evening was on Cultural Differences between The Netherlands and Spain. During the weeks and days before, we shared some of our knowledge on cultural (business) affairs on doing business in and between Spain and the Netherlands.

We started our first chapter on Business Culture in the Netherlands: about Corporate Social Responsibility, soon followed by chapter 2: about Punctuality.

Today we talk about …

Starting your business relationship with the Dutch

When starting your business relationship with the Dutch, the important thing is to demonstrate how your relationship would be beneficial for both sides. The Dutch take a long-term perspective when looking at business, so be clear what your company’s intentions are. Always appear modest and do not make exaggerated claims about what you or your company can deliver. Your word is your bond and making claims that later prove to be untrue will brand you as unreliable. Your goal is to gain their trust and keep it.

The Dutch are extremely direct in their communication. They may sound blunt if you come from a culture where communication is more indirect and context driven. They do not use hyperbole, and likewise they expect to be told yes or no in clear words.

The Dutch are hospitable, yet this is often reserved for family and friends. In business they tend to be reserved and formal. They do not touch one another and appreciate it when those they do business with maintain the proper distance, do not demonstrate emotion or use exaggerated hand gestures.

The business community is rather close and most senior level people know one another. Older, more bureaucratic companies may still judge you by how you are introduced so it is wise to have a third-party introduction if possible, although it is not mandatory. Small and medium sized companies are easier to approach.

Being highly involved in international trade (they are a small yet open country with strong dependencies on others) they are aware of cultural differences and other languages. A good command of foreign languages is appreciated, with English and German leading the way. Command of Spanish is not common good.

Punctuality for meetings is taken extremely seriously (see our previous chapter in these series: about Punctuality). Being late may mark you as untrustworthy and someone who may not meet other deadlines. If you expect to be delayed, telephone immediately and offer an explanation. Cancelling a meeting at the last minute could jeopardize your business relationship.

Meetings are rather formal in nature. Little time is spent on pleasantries. Meetings adhere to strict agendas, including starting and ending times. Do not attempt to deviate from the agenda. This disrupts their structure in which they act and is seen as inefficient.

When you win and keep their trust, you are dealing with good business partners that are set on long term, shared benefits.


Read more about Dutch and Spanish (business) culture:
Culture Shock Holland: Working in the Netherlands
Etiqueta en los negocios en Holanda
Hoe is de zakencultuur in Spanje? Hierbij een aantal do’s-and-don’ts.

Read more about the upcoming networkevent Spanjeborrel.