Cultural differences and international training.

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Belgians and Dutch: where is the difference?

Here is an example of how difficult it’s to move to a different cultural context, even if it isn’t that far and exotic.
A few years ago, an important Dutch multinational company decided to move its European headquarters and personnel from the Netherlands to Belgium.

A move of just over a hundred kilometers involving two countries with an open border since a long time and one language in common: no problems in sight.

And yet for the first six months the “coexistence” of Dutch and Belgians was difficult, almost chaotic, with lots of misunderstandings. And business was plummeting!

Why? Because no one was aware of how differently Belgians and Dutch conceive a business relationship, handle communication with colleagues and superiors, are motivated at work or just think about having a coffee break.

The deadlock was overcome only when cultural differences were taken into account and cultural awareness was created for both Belgians and Dutch. Unfortunately, many unhappily started relationships took a long time to be recovered and some conflicts remained unsolved. Professor Hofstede Model is a useful tool for investigating and better understanding the different values that are the driving force of every culture in order to establish and maintain effective relationships.

With the help of the Model the Dutch company could have foreseen (and may be avoided) the problems that occurred.
In fact, Belgium and the Netherlands have very different “indexes” on the cultural values analyzed by Hofstede.

Belgians are much concerned about respecting the hierarchy and having a formal relationship with their manager, while Dutch are more relaxed about the hierarchy and have no fear of speaking out their minds in front of their boss.
So that Belgians perceive Dutch colleagues as totally disrespectful of authority, while Dutch consider Belgians too cool and aloof and reluctant in their communications.

Belgians seek success and social status symbols (for instance an expensive car, a big house, dinner at trendy restaurants) and making a career is important. The less competitive Dutch culture prefers cooperation with colleagues rather than competition, and motivation at work stems more from the quality of the job than from the possibility to acquire (and show off) status symbols. Finally, Belgians tend to require clear rules and procedures, respect for dress codes (appropriate to the circumstances), precise meetings agendas.

Dutch are more flexible about procedures and in general are more tolerant towards anything unusual.
The mutual perception? “Too much unnecessary bureaucracy and formality here in Belgium!” says the Dutch colleague.
“How unreliable and dangerously tolerant these Dutch are!” thinks the Belgian one.

When two (or more) cultures meet without being aware of the different values reflected in different behaviors and attitudes, conflicts and misunderstandings may arise and mutual judgments tend to be negative. What is different from one’s own culture is perceived as not normal, correct, right and desirable.

But all prejudices and all stereotypes don’t help us to solve a problem with local staff in Brazil, or to obtain a clear answer from the Japanese counterpart. First step is to enhance our cultural competences and learn how to save many resources managing effectively cultural differences.

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Posted in A world of Cultures, Featured