I try to avoid asking a Dutch audience for criticism after one of my workshops; the experience is much the same as being machine gunned” said Fons Trompenaars, Dutch (!) author, speaker and consultant in cross-cultural communication.
Think of a situation you were in, where a Dutch person was very direct and you thought to yourself “how rude…” Ask yourself why you considered their behaviour rude. You’re 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”.
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 ‘improvement’ points in your working style is also not intended to reflect you as a person. Saying “no” when you ask if your neighbour can look after your child for a few hours does not mean you no longer have a good relationship with her, nor does it mean she doesn’t appreciate you looking after her son 2 weeks ago, nor does it 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. Full stop.
It takes a lot of getting used to but it does have its advantages. 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. In Ireland if I asked my neighbour to look after my son she would say yes, even if it really doesn’t suit her. 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”? Reply: “no honestly, it’s not a problem”. My reply “you’re really, really sure??” and so on and so on and so on (these conversations can go on for some time). Eventually I stop asking her 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 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 ain’t so bad after all :-)