Any successful businessman or expat knows how to build strong work relations in Belgium, and all of them have in common the fact that they studied the country’s culture, basic characteristics and the way to communicate with Belgians beforehand. You should also know and understand the history and current political situation of the country and the divide between the Dutch-speaking Flanders in the north and the French-speaking Wallonia in the south in order to be aware of their sensitivities and differences.
But first of all I will share some basic adjectives to describe what kind of people Belgians are; well, they are open and friendly people but also very industrious and well-educated. They are pragmatic, flexible and willing to compromise but are not looking to waste time either and are very punctual about business matters. Logically, they appreciate when they can see the same qualities in others. They are inherently conservative but are also very creative. Be prepared to work through matters in a rational and gradual way and maintain a modest approach.
What steps you should take then, in order to build strong relationships with Belgians?
1 Building trust
Recognize that Belgians tend to be careful and conservative; and they will take their time before trusting others. So be sure to build extra time into your planning for this purpose. You should also maintain a friendly, open attitude. Being confrontational is considered rude.
2 Know the difference between regions
In Belgium, you should understand the division between regions and what kind of people are they. Walloons are more Latin in their temperament; on the other hand, the Flemings in the north are more like the democratic Dutch in their habits and attitude. The Walloons are more status-conscious, while the northerners enjoy greater prosperity and are more flexible. Brussels – the largely French-speaking capital – is more international in character. And you will be appreciated if you differentiate the division between the three regions – Dutch speaking Flanders, French speaking Wallonia and the mainly French speaking capital of Brussels. The regions do not like to be confused with each other and you can avoid causing unnecessary irritation by being well-informed about the cultural and linguistic differences existing between the country’s regions.
3 Make an impression
The Belgians are friendly and outgoing and will take well to those who have an open and respectful attitude. They will expect colleagues to be friendly but efficient and to live up to their promises and agreements. While Belgians are pragmatic and do not like to waste time, they like to enjoy friendly relationships with their business counterparts. They enjoy business entertainment – eating and drinking is a favorite past time. Good topics of conversation include food and drinks, sports, Belgian art and architecture.
Overall, you need to be friendly, and not very direct but subtle, because they consider that directness is sometimes associated with being too simplistic. One more important thing is to try to avoid religious issues or issues related to the tensions between the regions of Belgium; also, refrain from criticizing the monarchy.
And last but not least, always be aware that Belgians are modest, pragmatic and flexible people. They are not given to loud or aggressive behavior and will not take well to those who are very boisterous, pushy or aggressive. Keep this in mind and you will impress them with your cross-cultural knowledge.
If you want to find out more about building relationship across cultures read this article: