What you should know before negotiating
In the Netherlands, the decision-making process is slower and more involved than you may be accustomed to in North America.
Consensus guides the decision-making process in most Dutch organizations. Moreover, every employee who may be affected will be informed and consulted; understandably, this is a time-consuming process. The Dutch consider the meeting on a particular subject an essential part of the job, not as just a ritual only preceding or even delaying ‘real’ work.
One of the reasons why the Dutch decision-making process appears so democratic is that this culture values diversity in opinion. Allowances are made so that everyone can have their say, but efforts will be made to reach a consensus for all but the more extreme views.
You will have to be sensitive to Dutch attempts to have the decision-making in management issues appear egalitarian; to accomplish this, the Dutch company must be open to suggestions from all workers, so that everyone is given access to information. Also, the Dutch are generally uncomfortable with secrets.
Since decisions are typically made by a group of people, it’s a good policy to learn more about the company’s structure and–most importantly–who will be making the decisions. Don’t forget to enquire about the status of the company council [OR], often a quite influential participant even in major management decisions.
Once the decision is made, it may seem unchangeable, but some individuals may attempt to bring about change by saying ‘on second thought’ and giving relevant arguments.
Once a decision has been made on the best procedures, you can be assured that the Dutch organization will quickly get to work and maintain a strong commitment to reaching the objective.
Although the decision-making process can seem exceptionally slow, you can be assured that the Dutch will follow through once a deal is established and the necessary paperwork is completed. They will do what they promised or agreed to do.
Do everything you can to avoid giving the impression of superiority or bossiness. Egalitarianism is a central tenet of Dutch society. Everyone in a Dutch company, from the boss to menial labourers, is considered valuable and worthy of respect. Clients are respected, of course, but are not seen as superior beings who can demand just anything.
Giving compliments is not a part of Dutch business culture. Since most work is done in groups, there is not as much emphasis on recognizing individual effort. Open competition between workers is frowned upon.
When problems occur, blame will sometimes be apportioned on the ‘system’ or another external force, rather than on one person.
When it’s necessary for someone to be praised or criticized, the Dutch will do this only in private. Only in rare cases are excellent workers are publicly acclaimed, and then they usually show embarrassment at being singled out.
Privacy is of key importance in the Netherlands. Whether at home or in the workplace, doors are kept closed or slightly ajar. Moreover, always knock on a closed door and wait to be admitted in.
Family and business life are kept separate in this culture. When necessary, however, it can be permissible to phone a Dutch colleague at home about business matters. With colleagues one sees every day, details of private life are exchanged. Sensitive issues may be discussed discreetly.
Frequent short and direct eye contact is felt to be a sign of sincerity. Continuous looking away is felt to be sneaky, indicating dishonesty or a lack of social skills. Observing people is not considered as offensive as in the USA [‘staring’], but a smile also makes it better here.
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