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THE DO'S AND DONTS OF DEALING WITH DUTCH COLLEAGUES

Published on August 3, 2017


L van Orsouw - Groener
CEO / owner Together Abroad Multilingual Job Board

The Netherlands has a well-deserved reputation as a highly-organized


society, embodying the principles of pluralism, social responsibility, and
tolerance. It is what is called gedogen in Dutch, an untranslatable word
that implies the ability to tolerate even exceptions to the rule. The Dutch
society is a consensus-oriented society where everyone has his or her
say. And they all know the value of their opinions, which they do not
hesitate to give.

As an egalitarian society, the Dutch have a tendency to avoid displays of


discernible wealth, whereby houses and clothes often seem ordinary and
discreet to foreigners. Every person is equal and is treated accordingly,
which is often difficult for foreigners to understand. This way of looking
at things is also reflected in their work ethics and culture.

A CEO of a company pouring his own coffee, and general managers


talking to the cleaning lady is nothing if normal in the Netherlands.
People are equally treated with respect, and no one is simply bossed
around and given orders without a proper explanation as to why. The
Dutch tend to consider the risks and consequences of anything they do
by acquiring very detailed information in advance. If something goes
wrong, however, a Dutch person is willing to take full responsibility for
the consequences. The same applies for the alternative if one succeeds,
he or she will take the full credit.
Another difference from most societies is that the client is not always
right. Whereas clients often take advantage of their higher status and
preferential position over the sales personnel, the sales person openly
disagrees and criticizes their client in the Netherlands. This often results
in a culture shock with foreigners, who leave with the impression that
the Dutch are not quite service-minded people.

The Netherlands is low on masculinity and high on femininity with


respect to the power distance in the working environment. This means
that one can give their opinion even if they are on the lower rungs of the
hierarchy. One can disagree with the boss, even in the presence of other
employees. The best way to illustrate this is by the following example: it
is often a common sight in hospitals around the world to see employees
with the same profession or status eating together, for instance, doctors
would eat with doctors. Nonetheless, in the Dutch hospital, the whole
ward eats together - the boss, the healthcare staff, the interns, and the
secretary. It is considered natural to interact on a personal level with
everyone, not just those with the same job status as yourself.

But what can an expat expect when working with Dutch colleagues?

Directness

The Dutch are often described as direct to the point where one could
think they are actually rude. They do not mince words or beat around the
bush. Instead, they say it straight up and direct, whether it is feedback
from your manager or saying no when you ask someone for a favor.
They will often criticize your work indifferent of your. In return, they
expect you to do the same. This means that if you detect mistakes in
their work and you do not inform them about it, they might be
disappointed with you. However, keep in mind that some expatriates
have reported that being direct with the Dutch does not always sit well.

Consensus

The Dutch are famous to Americans for the many hours a week they
spend in meetings, or explaining to their subordinates why they give
them a certain order. As was already mentioned, they like to consider all
risks when committing to something, and they tend to be careful when it
comes to decision-making. This process is rather complex. In a meeting,
everyone involved is given their turn and is heard. In the end, a
compromise on which everyone can agree will be made. Once the details
are agreed upon, the work can begin. Thus, changes and decisions are
usually lengthy processes. So, if you want to do something important -
relax and take your time with careful consideration.

Keep It Simple

One of the first things foreigners often notice when working for a Dutch
company is the plain, simple language people use when communicating
with each other at work. The Dutch have an appreciation for plain
speaking over subtlety, diplomacy and coded speech. This leads to less
miscommunication in the Dutch business life.

Another point to keep in mind is that whenever you have something to


do, get straight down to business. Most societies like to spend time on
chit chat and getting to know you, but the Dutch prefer to jump in
and get the work down without the unnecessary opening conversations.

Know the Boundaries

The Dutch are firm on keeping business and private life separate. To
them, work time is meant for work and nothing else, which could
probably explain why they are efficient and well skilled in their
professions. Of course, this leaves little time for socializing with
colleagues, especially for you as an expat. Nevertheless, if you would
like to create a social connection with your colleagues, you can visit one
of the company drinks, also known as borrels. It is a good opportunity to
establish the social connections you want.

Last but not least, do not take things personally. If a Dutch person
disagrees with something you have suggested, it is not because of you or
as a judgment of your character, it simply means they do not agree with
your idea. They need evidence and convincing arguments when
presented with new suggestions; so, instead of taking it personally, try to
provide more convincing evidence the next time you have a good idea.

In summary, one of the main struggles expats typically experience while


working for a Dutch company is the cultural difference. Being exposed
to work ethics that differ significantly from the one you are used to
could often result in a cultural shock. It would be useful to adopt the
framework that if you do not understand something or you are not
familiar with it, it does not mean that it is not natural, civilized or right.
If you would like to feel embraced by your Dutch colleagues and
employer, accept that you are working in an egalitarian environment that
strives for consensus. Accept the fact that you may have a different
cultural background and allow yourself the time to adapt.

Good luck and enjoy working in the Netherlands!

Written by;
Nesrin Nazlieva writer Together Abroad