Why small differences in communication can make a big difference to your business success


People are generally inclined to making assumptions. That is how our brain works. That is how, from an early age onwards, you learn to understand the world around you. As you grow up, you recognise patterns and draw conclusions about how things operate in the world you live in. It is a valuable survival mechanism. Our brain creates a ‘complete’ picture, that is logical to us in our environment. Even when in reality, the actual picture is not complete at all.

Take this picture below:  How many complete elephant legs do you count?


Your brain automatically ‘sees’ a picture of an elephant with 4 legs, because we know the concept of an elephant and we want to see the world around us as a logical whole.

While if you look at each separate leg, there is only one leg that is actually complete (the right hind leg).

So, how does this effect influence you doing business in The Netherlands?

When you move to The Netherlands you automatically interpret the Dutch society as you perceive it. You act upon what is logical for you. You probably are aware of the large, well known differences between the way of working in your country and The Netherlands. They are obvious and no big source of problems. The smaller, less obvious differences however, you will not notice very easily, as your brain ‘fills’ the small gaps, as it does in the picture of the elephant.

These small differences are much harder to be aware of. They may be an undetected source of miscommunication, where business conversations are going slightly different from than you expect. Even if on the surface it seems that you operate on the same principles, from the viewpoint how you understand the conversation, differences may appear. They may influence the outcome and the efficiency with which you cooperate.

An example:

When I first started working in Australia, I did not understand why meetings did not start right on time. If we planned to meet at 10.00am, I was getting restless at around 10.05, when participants were still chatting about football or the weekend. I felt like I was wasting time (we agreed to start at 10 !), especially when there were important agenda items for the progress of the project we were working on. After several delayed starts of meetings, I spoke about my annoyance, about this ‘time wasting’ in a direct Dutch manner. I did not realise that my impatience actually slowed down the process. Luckily my boss at the time was a woman with a good eye for this. She enlightened me on the subject and I could adopt a more effective approach.

One subject that will probably influence your effectiveness in doing business in The Netherlands is Managing Expectations. Given the differences described here, discovering unspoken differences at an early stage will make you more successful in cooperating with your Dutch partners. Translated back to the elephant: which project will be more successful? A project defined with complete legs of the elephant? Or the project defined by the suggestion of complete legs of the elephant?

Knowing the Dutch Directness in their communication, you may want to pay extra attention to managing expectations in a direct manner. Here are three questions to get you started (there are more options, of course). Prepare for both asking as well as answering these questions. The may seem very direct to you. However, they are valuable in detecting any unspoken assumptions. They help you to manage expectations and ensure that you reach your joint goals.

  • According to you, what is crucial to the success of this project? Why?
  • How do you perceive the end result of the project?
  • Which threats or hurdles do you see on the path of this project?

Generally, the Dutch are very pragmatic. They will answer these questions where they can. On top of that, they will expect you to answer them also, openly and to the best of your knowledge.

The underlying attitude is most likely: We make a plan together and we hold one another accountable for it. We discuss issues openly, including possible hurdles, problems or mistakes on the way, so we can resolve them before they turn into problems or hazards to the end result.

In this manner you can both reap the rewards of a successful cooperation.Are you interested in assisting your managers and team leaders, or your employees to communicate effectively in The Netherlands? Els Brouwer will be happy to discuss what options are available for training and coaching via Projob.

Jacqueline van 't Spijker

Jacqueline van ’t Spijker, trainer/coach for personal growth in business communication

Jacqueline van ‘t Spijker is trainer for personal growth in business communication. She is trainer, industrial psychologist and her expertise is to observe and strengthen contact and cooperation. In the past 25 years she has designed and facilitated training both in the commercial world as well as not for profit sector. Jacqueline is convinced that contact is the best basis for cooperation in the work place. She strives to help her participants experience success and make them realise that they are capable of doing more than they are aware. Jacqueline is a bilingual trainer in both Dutch and English. She trains and coaches individuals as well as teams in the Co Creation team associated with Projob.


0 comments on “Why small differences in communication can make a big difference to your business success

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: