was successfully added to your cart.


Take is Easy! Its just a game - Intercultural communication: confrontation vs. consensus

Saskia Maarse | July 27, 2020

During my time at a big international hotel in Mallorca my team and I had the task to make sure the guests spent their money at the hotel. In order to do so, we hosted a big event every evening. The more engaging the program, the longer people stayed, and the more money was spent at the bar. To create excitement and hype for the evening it was important to get to know the guests during the day. We did this by playing sports and games, which wasn’t as easy as it sounds.

During these events we had to deal with tourists from six different countries: England, Spain, France, Germany, Italy and the Netherlands. We were quickly faced with the cultural differences between these countries, it became especially clear with sports and games.

  • The Germans wanted clarity about the rules
  • For the Dutch it was important that the game was focused on having fun
  • The Spanish became emotional quite quickly, in contrast to the English, Germans and Dutch.
  • The Italians and French only wanted one thing – to winning

Irritation and Misunderstanding
We had to be on our toes because if we did not pay attention, one thing or another would lead to misunderstanding and annoyance. It was a big challenge to lead these games because:

  • German tourists were often annoyed that Dutch tried to ignore the rules every once in a while.
  • Some Dutch got annoyed by the competitiveness and emotional behaviour of the Italians and French: “Calm down, it’s just a game.”
  • The English were confused by the communication in general.

In this blog I want to focus on one of the culture differences you can read above: consensus versus confrontation, or win/win versus wanting to win.

In the Netherlands it is typical when having a conversation (over work or politics) to avoid conflict and consider each others’ feelings. Despite their directness (which be seen as rude) they are always open to someone’s opinion – even if the other person knows little of the topic. The Dutch frequently strive for win-win situations and compromises. Similar countries are Japan, Denmark, and Sweden.

The importance of who is right is prevalent is Russian, Italian, French, and Egyptian societies. To win at a game, for example, they will discuss and fervently confront the other players. This usually leads to them emotionally raising their voice and showing strong emotions. In Southern-European and Arab countries people see win-win situations as losing a battle, you only compromise when its in your benefit to. There is a strong competitive drive and winners’ mentality present, where pride and honor play a central role.

Professional setting
At work, where money is at play, there is a risk of misunderstanding between cultures with different mentalities that are linked to them.

No deal!
There was a Dutch couple I had spoken to who were at the final stage of buying a house in Italy. Naturally, they read through the contract with great care, and everything seemed to check out. Until the Italian owner of the house decided to include a set of new terms, at the last minute. Frustrated, the Dutch couple collected themselves and decided to take a look anyway. “If we both meet each other halfway, we’ll find a compromise”, they said to each other. Unfortunately, it turned out to be a pipedream. The Italian owner held steadfast to his position and refused any attempt at a compromise. Ultimately, the deal fell through.

Its our mentality
What went wrong? The Dutch couple saw their background and natural mentality to fall back on compromises as the reason the deal didn’t go through. However, what works well in the Netherlands does not necessarily work well somewhere else. In contrast, it might have the reverse effect. The couple could have spent their time better by building up a relationship with the Italian owner in order to gain his trust and convince him of their point of view.

Change Your Mindset
The art of being a cultural chameleon is difficult. The real trick is to keep your own identity adapt at the same time, like Belgian colleague learnt while working on Mallorca:

  • If there are lots of Southern-Europeans in the group, make sure to be aware of their competitive mentality.
  • Germans? Check whether everything is going according to the rules.
  • Keep the game fun and not too serious for the Dutch and English. A few jokes don’t hurt either!
  • Don’t let the passion and emotion of others bother you, after all it is their way of enjoying themselves.
  • Change your mindset! See your job as cultural pivot as a game.

About Saskia

Saskia Maarse is an intercultural speaker, trainer and author. She writes and speaks about Dutch culture in both business / professional and social life. In her blogs, books and professional talks and workshops she uncovers the origins of deep-rooted Dutch characteristics. Saskia also explains what we can learn from and about other cultures – in areas like communication, leadership and human behaviour.

Leave a Reply