Dutch Customs and Etiquette - Business Etiquette

Business Etiquette

  • Business can be discussed during lunch. Business breakfasts are not common. Spouses or partners are often included in a business dinner.
    • It is normal to ask if the host expects a spouse to be present at a business function.
  • Business matters are usually not discussed when partners are present or following the conversation.
  • Gifts are generally not given or expected at business meetings as they are only exchanged in business once a close, personal relationship has developed.
  • The Dutch find any form of ostentation embarrassing. A grand gesture of generosity will make them uncomfortable. Displays of wealth which are too obvious are considered bad taste and will most likely get a negative response.
  • The Dutch take punctuality for business meetings seriously and expect others will do likewise; it is wise to call with an explanation if you are delayed for more than five minutes. Lateness, missed appointments, postponements, changing the time of an appointment or a late delivery lessens trust and can ruin relationships.
    • Calling half an hour or less before the start of a meeting to change the time is considered bad manners. The main reason behind this is probably the scheduled nature of Dutch business. Punctuality increases efficiency.
  • An individual's cooperation and trust are valued over performance; one-upmanship is frowned upon.
  • The Dutch tend to be direct, giving straight "yes and no" answers. They are conservative and forceful and can be stubborn and tough negotiators. They are willing to innovate or experiment, but with minimal risk.
  • Companies are frugal. Business is profit-oriented. However, though the strategy is cautious and pragmatic, usually involving step-by-step plans, the Dutch are not obsessed with numbers. Strategy is clear and communicated to all levels. In many companies the decision-making is slow and ponderous, involving wide consultation and boardroom meetings (poldermodel). The Dutch do not appreciate the "I call the shots" mentality, instead they keep talking until all parties agree. Once decisions are made, implementation is fast and efficient.
  • In the Netherlands, commitments are taken seriously. Do not promise anything that cannot be delivered. A spoken agreement with others present has the same worth as a signed contract even from a legal viewpoint.
    • This also applies in reverse. If the Dutch express uncertainty about their ability to deliver something, this is usually not a negotiation trick or a polite attempt at refusal, but an honest warning. In fact, it may be a good indication that the other party will try to deliver, but may face some problems or delays. The Dutch usually "err on the side of caution" in such matters to avoid making promises they cannot keep.

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