Some years ago I asked an Indian lady working for Tata Corus what she found to be the biggest difference between working in India and in the Netherlands. She said it was the directness of her Dutch colleagues that took some getting used to. I smiled remembering the couple of times I almost packed my bags and left for Schipol airport after hearing my then boyfriend’s ‘no’ followed by a physical removal of himself from the common space. Simple, efficient, clear. Message conveyed. When he did that, I sometimes felt like I’d been slapped on my face.
I think Dutch directness is another manifestation of the idea: ‘we are transparent’. What you see is what you get. Why else is it so easy to look into the living rooms of so many Dutch people? A walk in Amsterdam allows, beside other tourist attractions, the possibility to gaze into the homes of its folk. This attraction is not confined to Amsterdam alone. While on my bicycle sprees I have looked through a lot of windows in Holland. And what you see are orderly, neat spaces designed to tell the viewer that all is well and above board here.
A transparent folk. An honest folk. Those clean, glass windows seem to call out, ‘don’t you see, what you see is what you get’!
Dutch directness to my mind is also about efficiency. Why would you spend time and energy on a long explanation that implies a ‘no’ when you can simply say it (and maybe leave to get onto other important things)? If it is in the interest of the listener, they may follow up with a question or follow you, to know the reason for the ‘no’. If they don’t, you were right – the story underlying the ‘no’ was not so important, anyway.
In contrast, many people in other parts of the world find the story underlying the message more important than a direct utterance like ‘no’. They take the listener with them, meandering sometimes, so that when the ‘no’ message comes, it resembles a nudge and not a slap. Quite often, it is nuanced – so that it reflects many a possibility along the ‘yes- no’ continuum.
This is often how communication goes in India. Indirect.
However, some Dutch people who have been to India tell me that they have experienced a shocking form of directness in their Indian colleagues. It’s a good idea to think about where and when this direct form of communication takes place, because that tells one a lot about India, and of course about Holland.
Some useful links to the website of India Connected