In business, it is important to understand differences in culture and how they affect communication. Cross-cultural communication barriers can result in miscommunication, misunderstandings, and conflict.
The success of any business depends on its ability to communicate effectively with various communities including customers, employees, suppliers, and competitors. Belgium's culture-based communication barriers and style will be touched upon in this article.
Belgium is a country located in the western part of Europe with the population of about 11 million people. It is a federal state composed of three regions: Flanders, Wallonia, and Brussels-Capital Region.
There are two major ethnic groups in Belgium—the Flemish and the Walloons—and they have different cultural practices when it comes to workplace communication. Belgium is a multilingual country, with three official languages: Dutch, French, and German.
In addition to these three languages, the country is home to many others including Flemish and Walloon. While most Belgians speak at least two languages, some are monolingual. The country's history has been shaped by its geographic location at the crossroads between different cultures and languages.
Belgium's culture-based communication style
- The culture of Belgium is very formal. They respect hierarchies and authority figures, with a strong focus on social status. This means that the way you are perceived by others is important to the Belgians, especially when meeting new people.
- They prefer explicit language over vague language, however, in general, Belgians are not very blunt in their communication.
- In order to make a decision, it's important for everyone to be able to voice their concerns and ideas in an open and honest manner.
- Like many cultures around the world, Belgians prefer to communicate in low-context situations where there is less ambiguity or indirectness in what is being said. However, when communicating with close friends or family members with whom there is a strong connection between them there may be more context provided in order to convey feelings or emotions more clearly without having to spell everything out explicitly in words alone (high context).
- Small talk is not necessarily a part of business communication in Belgium, so it's important to use other strategies to make connections with clients and build rapport.
- In Belgium, silence is not an uncomfortable thing; rather, it is a sign of respect for what the other person has said. If no one speaks for several minutes during a meeting or conversation, this does not mean that there is any problem or tension—it simply means that people are taking time to formulate their thoughts before speaking up again.
- A tendency to use humor as a way of avoiding difficult subjects might be considered a barrier to communication. This includes sarcasm and irony, which may be difficult for foreigners to understand if they don't speak the language well.
- Belgians tend to be more individualistic than Americans and other cultures.
- Belgian people tend to be quiet and reserved until they get to know you better, so don’t expect them to jump right into the conversation at first glance!
- Belgians tend not to be very expressive or give compliments easily, so if someone does compliment you or offer praise, it's probably genuine—so take advantage of this opportunity!
- In Belgium, business cards are exchanged during introductions and used throughout the meeting to identify oneself and impress others.
- In Belgium, punctuality is highly valued and expected. If someone is late to a meeting or appointment, it is considered rude and may cause others to lose confidence in them.
Non-verbal communication of Belgians
- Greeting: Handshaking is considered a formal greeting method in Belgium. It’s also used as a way of showing respect or acknowledging someone else’s presence.
- Eye contact: In Belgium, eye contact is considered polite and respectful, but maintaining eye contact for too long can make people feel uncomfortable or intimidated by your gaze which could lead to miscommunication between two parties during negotiations or meetings.
- Personal space: Belgians tend to keep their personal space private from strangers by not standing too close together. Similarly, touching is frowned upon in Belgium unless it’s done by family members or close friends who have known each other since childhood (e.g., patting on shoulders or arms).
- Belgians tend not to display emotions loudly or visibly; instead they keep them inside.
- Body language: Belgians do not typically use body language to communicate, and they tend to be reserved in their conversations with others. However, they are also very friendly and welcoming.
- Dress code: The typical business dress code in Belgium is conservative and professional. Business attire is typically dark-colored and formal, with suits being the most common form of dress. Women tend to wear dresses or skirts with blouses, while men tend to wear ties, suits, and vests.
Business communication etiquette in Belgium
- Try not to use first names when meeting someone for the first time unless they do so first.
- Be aware that Belgians can come across as distant and hard to read.
- You should always treat everyone with respect and eye contact is always important especially if it's your first meeting.
- Belgians are very good listeners so it's important for you to give them time to reply.
- Be aware of your body language when having a conversation with somebody: make sure that your gestures aren't too exaggerated or too animated.
- Be mindful of dress codes at meetings.