Going Dutch: How to Do Business With a Dutch(wo)man

By now it is probably known that the Netherlands is a small country with surprisingly tall people. Despite the country’s and its people’s size, the Netherlands represents the sixth largest economy within the EU-28 and contributes almost 5% to the EU’s GDP, according to a 2019 study by CBS. Economic growth rates are high, as are the pace of innovation and housing prices. As such, it is safe to say that the Dutch economy is flourishing and you might find yourself doing business with those European cheese lovers. Here is a practical guide to successfully winning over those Dutch, business hearts.

1. Timing Is Everything
The Dutch are punctual. Very punctual. Being late is an absolute no go, as this translates into you wasting the other person’s time. Don’t just be on time, be ten minutes early.

2. Meet and Greet
When you first meet someone, don’t kiss, hug or show any sign of affection. The Dutch live in a cold country and that makes them rather cold people. Honestly, a genuine smile is as hot as it gets. Upon any introduction, shake hands firmly (not too soft, not too squeezy) and look the other person in the eye. In addition, you state your name clearly and there is no need to ask: “How are you?” or some polite equivalent.  

3. Mind the Other People
In case your host forgets to introduce you to the rest of the crowd, simply go around and introduce yourself to the other attendees. Again, the firm handshake is your friend.

4. Get to the Point
Whereas in some cultures establishing a relationship by friendly chit chat prior to doing business is extremely important, the Dutch do it slightly differently. Yes, you can speak for  roughly 30 seconds about something irrelevant 

such as the weather, but after that it is time to cut the crap. Please, do not take this personal. It simply reflects the Dutch efficiency.

5. Be Humble
If there is something that the majority of Dutchies are allergic to, it is people who brag. This means that you should keep it real and modest. If you really want to highlight one of your successes for some specific reason, be factual about it and mind your tone of voice. 

6. Be Honest
The Dutch are extremely direct. By that we really mean next level direct. Sometimes this might put you off your feet, but again, try to not take this personal. Instead, try to be a little more blunt yourself. Being straightforward is considered a positive quality which the Dutch associate with being trustworthy. 

7. Don’t “Consider It”
Again, this compliments the directness, but we cannot emphasize this enough. If you want to say “no”, say “no”. It is key not to say “I will consider it” or “look into it”. If you know you disagree with the matter at hand, you might just as well clearly state it. “Perhaps” and “maybe” are no options.

8. Eat Your Brekky
You see, lunch is not a big thing in the Netherlands. People usually eat a quick sandwich, which some even consume on their bikes or behind their computers. Whereas in some cultures lunch is an important occasion to bond or do business over, it is rather insignificant in the Netherlands. For that reason, we suggest you fill your tummy up during breakfast, in order not to faint from hunger throughout the course of the day.  

9. Ditch the Suit
Naturally, this depends on the kind of company and industry. However, generally speaking the Dutch business dress code is extremely informal. On the Dutch Zuid As you will still encounter plenty of people in a suit and tie, but this traditional species is slowly becoming extinct. Do your prior research if you want to make sure you blend in with the business crowd.

10. Hierarchy?
Just like the suit and tie, the Dutch take business hierarchy less serious than other cultures might do. Naturally, this is related to the Dutch openness and bluntness. Senior managers are known not to “play the boss” and not to display their power very evidently. Instead, all levels of employees mostly disregard someone’s position in the hierarchy in everyday interaction. Everybody plays ping-pong with everybody.

Got different ideas or experiences? We would love to hear about them!

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