The perks of Dutch directness

"I try to avoid asking a Dutch audience for criticism after my workshops; the experience is much the same as being machine-gunned."
Fons Trompenaars
Dutch author, speaker and consultant in cross-cultural communication.

Direct, or rude?

The Dutch are direct, yes, I think most Dutch people and Netherlands-based expats would agree on that. Many internationals would probably add that they are often blunt to the point of being rude.

The Dutch (in general) say things as they are, they don’t mince words or beat around the bush. They say it straight up and direct, whether it’s feedback from your manager, a comment on your new hairstyle or the simple (but direct, with no explanation) "no" when you ask someone for a favour.

Yes they are direct. But what does it all mean? And why do many other nations consider this rude?

Drawing cultural comparisons

Think of a situation you were in, when a Dutch person was very direct and you thought to yourself, "How rude".

Ask yourself why you considered their behaviour rude. You were probably thinking,
 "it just is" or
 "that’s not a nice way to talk to someone" or
 "it would have been better to say it in a nicer manner", or something similar.

That’s your culture talking; it’s your culture’s perspective on the Dutch culture. Their behaviour falls into your definition of "rude".

Dutch directness: stop taking it personally

The Dutch value honesty and directness, it's important to them, and whilst many of us see their behaviour as rude and often take "Dutch directness" personally, it isn’t intended that way.

Making a comment on your new hairstyle is not intended as a criticism of you as a person. Pointing out numerous "areas for improvement" in your working style is not a personal attack either.

Getting a "no" when you ask your neighbour to look after your child for a few hours does not mean you no longer have a good relationship with her.

Nor does it mean your neighbour doesn’t appreciate you looking after her son two weeks ago, nor does it mean that you can’t ask her in the future to look after your child. It simply means that right now it doesn’t suit her to look after your child. 

The benefits of straight talking

Dutch straight talking takes a lot of getting used to, but it does have its advantages. At least you know where you stand!

I’m Irish. In Ireland we are very polite and try to please others, even if it doesn’t suit us. Back home, if I asked my neighbour to look after my son, she would say yes, even if it was inconvenient.

I know she will say "yes" no matter what, so my reply will be:
 "Are you sure?" She will reply,
 "Yes of course, no problem at all," to which my reply will be,
 "Are you really, really sure, it’s no problem at all if you can’t - I’ll ask Mary instead?"
 "No honestly, it’s not a problem."
 "you’re really, really sure?" and so on and so on (these conversations can go on for some time).

Eventually I stop asking if she is sure and agree to drop him off the next day.

Later that evening her husband comes home and asks how her day was. "Fine" she probably says, "but I have to look after Caitríona’s son tomorrow for a few hours and I was planning on having a nice quiet afternoon to myself."

Maybe Dutch directness isn't so bad after all...



Caitriona Rush

Caitriona has spent 18 years living and working in 9 countries around the globe. She works as a cross-cultural consultant and provides workshops, trainings, consultancy and one-to-one sessions to both...

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