Understanding business culture in Belgium

Written by Kristel van der Heiden November 2013. Posted in Business relations, Int. Skills

Understanding business culture in Belgium

Understanding the business-meeting culture in Belgium (Flanders)

Next week you have a meeting in Belgium and you have no idea how to behave there at all. BIG PROBLEM! So, you probably want to know more about the business-meeting culture in Belgium. Here is a world of information about the culture of Flemish-speaking Belgians in business meetings. Maybe you could even close a deal then, if only because of your good understanding of their culture.

Starting a meeting

When you are planning on having a meeting, you will have to call the Belgian company. It is better if you do it early so they will have time to schedule it and can prepare for your arrival. According to R.D. Lewis, punctuality is considered normal in Belgium, as time should not be wasted. Therefore, Belgians prefer it if you are on time. When you arrive at the meeting, always shake hands with the others the moment you see them, introduce yourself nicely, and ask where you should sit down. At the first meeting you will first have a long period of small talk and you will rarely get down to business already.  Be open and ask questions; do not talk too much, but let the Belgian speak. Belgians are okay with humour, so a little irony is welcome, but keep it business-like. They think it is funny to make jokes about their Dutch neighbours and the other way around, but one thing you must never do is to compare the Flemish-speaking Belgian with a Frenchman.

During the meeting

You start by talking about yourself and the company. Since it is normal that the first meeting will be all about this and that there will be no talking about business. That will often take place in the second meeting, after your Belgian trading partner starts talking about it.

Be patient, as the Belgians do not like to be pushed. You will get a deal faster by being fair, open and helpful instead of pushing them. Know that you always have to be polite, since a Belgian appreciates that very much. They do not like interruptions and you will have to make sure the meeting goes without any hard situations. Just keep the topics to the business you are supposed to talk about.

 

In the past years the importance of hierarchy decreased in Belgium. For French-speaking Belgians, however, hierarchy is still more important than for the people from Flanders. Nowadays every person in a meeting can and should talk about what he thinks about the subject, and managers will ask their employees for ideas. Belgians like structure in meetings as well as procedures, and authority is based on competence, since they need to have expertise. Nevertheless, you can still see the hierarchy, because a Belgian could say “yes” when he means “no”. This happens if the person is not sure about the contract and has to talk to his manager before completing it.

Following a meeting

Belgians prefer having hand-outs of the presentation. Furthermore, Belgians prefer to work with agendas with a clear line of topics to follow, to give structure to the meeting.

Finishing a meeting

At the end of a meeting, when the real business has already been discussed, there will be time for questions and answers. After the Q&A, concrete agreements will be made, which can mean two things: 1) a contract will be signed or 2) they will want to have some more internal consultations and another appointment will be made right away.