The following are the most important tips for conducting business in the Netherlands:
The Dutch are widely known for being direct and straightforward. This also translates to their business culture. The Dutch tend to get right down to business, thus do not expect a great deal of small talk. Dutch people tend to separate their private and work life.
They are wary of inflated claims and expect direct answers as they do like to know where they stand. Ideas will be discussed very openly at meetings and everyone will be entitled to their opinion, but don’t be too offended if someone says bluntly, “I don’t think that will work.” Dutch people like treating people respectfully and honestly and are not overly impressed with ranks and titles.
When you have a business meeting do not forget to shake hands with all the participants. Make sure you repeat your name as you shake hands and make direct eye contact. If no one introduces you then you should make sure to introduce yourself. When you are leaving, it is also considered polite to shake hands with everyone present again.
When greeting older business partners or those of a higher business rank, most Dutch people will use the formal ‘U’ until the other person tells them to adopt a more informal tone.
Punctuality is valued although apologies for a late arrival will be accepted. If you find yourself running late, call ahead. Time management is important and business meetings generally do not last more than they should and adhere to a fixed agenda. As far as business meetings in the Netherlands are concerned, they are usually held with the entire team but the presence of a senior manager is optional. Therefore meetings can be quite lengthy as people seek consensus. Meetings are scheduled according to an appointment, even one or two weeks in advance.
Keep in mind when planning an appointment that the Dutch frequently take vacations during July and August, and late December.
Gift giving is not a common aspect in the Dutch business culture, therefore gifts are not usually given or expected at an initial business meeting. Wait until you have established a relationship before giving any gifts. Modest gifts are usually the safest choices.
Standards and styles vary widely from one sector to another. For example in the banking sector formal attire is usually the norm, while other sectors like IT will not impose such a strict dress code for their employees. In general, the Dutch prefer informal, unpretentious and modest fashion.