Negotiating in Belgium

Written by Mark Alosery & Kevin Verwaard November 2013. Posted in Negotiations

Negotiating in Belgium

Country specific communication

The Belgians are friendly, hard-working people characterized by an absence of dogma and strong opinions. They are conservative and prefer to avoid confrontations. Belgians will not respond boastfully or overbearingly. The Dutch-speaking Flemish are known to be more egalitarian and relaxed while the French-speaking Walloons are more Latin in temperament and more conscious of class and rank. Belgians have a traditional approach to politeness. A strong hierarchy dominates, which implies that everyone is addressed very formally. It is very usual call someone Mr or Ms as soon as people get to know each other they will address each other by first name. It is important to know who one’s business partner is before doing business in Belgium. It should be made it clear that one knows that the Flemish are not Dutch and that the Walloons are not French. Care should be taken to avoid speaking French to Flemish or Dutch to Walloons.

It is usual to shake hands with everyone present at the beginning and end of a business meeting. Eye contact is important when shaking hands. It is normal to maintain at least an arm’s length distance between people when talking. Hands should be kept out of pockets and good posture should be maintained. Business cards should be presented when meeting people for business purposes. Business cards in English are acceptable, but cards printed in English on one side and French or Dutch on the other make a better impression. Normally it is not usual to give or receive gifts though an exception can be made in the case of a celebration at, for instance, the closure of a deal.

Listening style

Belgians are polite and respectful people who gladly listen to others. Belgians will not interrupt a conversation quickly. They are open-minded to outside information and will engage anyone in a discussion on facts, principles, or theories. Flemings listen to each other “in a circle”. They are very attentive, as the end result is likely to be an amalgamation of all ideas put forward. Everyone should know the strategy. In Wallonia, the meetings are mostly for briefings. The most senior person with the highest authority in the group leads the meetings and will have the most say in taking decisions. Staff do not always know what the strategy is.

Argumentation style

Belgians are polite and purposeful people. They are not aggressive and prefer to avoid confrontation. Belgians like to discuss decisions and will only rarely make a decision directly after a conversation, preferring to take a little time to consider. Belgians are specialists in closing compromises. They can appear detached and do not immediately say what they think. In the worst case a Belgian says no when he means yes and vice versa.

Decision-making style

Belgians like to get to know with whom they will be doing business. The first meeting with a new contact may be low-key and devoted to making social contact. In Belgium relationship-building is very important and the warmth of personal discussions and trust will be important to the success of business ventures there.

Decisions within the three Belgian districts have three distinct decision-making processes. In Wallonia, even after long discussion, the final decision is usually made by the person with the highest authority in the negotiating group. While in less hierarchical Flanders, a group is more likely to be reached a decision by consensus. Therefore, to all members of the negotiating group should be heeded. In Brussels, where the administrative centre of Europe and many international companies are established, decisions are taken in a more international manner such happens in the US and the UK.

Management or hierarchy characteristics

Most Belgian companies work with a ‘top-down’ strategy. The senior executive decides on a deal after his team researched all the possibilities. People from Walloon attach more value to this hierarchy then people from Flanders.

Negotiation teams

There are a number of differences between meetings with Flemish and Walloon trade partners. At Flemish meetings the negotiations take place with a group in which everyone exerts influence on the negotiation process. Flanders involves also the staff with a lower function. Walloons like to represent themselves with group employees. However, only the manager negotiates and takes decisions. This because of their Latin influences.

Contracts, legal concepts

The following rules apply to closing deals:

- Both groups must be competent in making business deals,

- A complete agreement between the groups must exist,

- Coercion or fraud cannot be spoken of,

- The agreement is related to a legitimate object,

- The cause of the operation must be lawful.

Furthermore it is useful to mention appointments such as the delivery deadline in the contract, these are binding and can be skilful when there are disputes.