Belgian-Chinese Chamber of Commerce (BCECC)

BCECC Newsletter: Working in Belgium or with Belgians

In our previous article we talked about the unique language skills of Belgians, the differences between the regions, the multicultural working environment and the well-established education system. We also highlighted the importance of family and a healthy work-life balance to Belgians and how you need to give them some time to get to know you better before they open up. In this article we describe a few additional features of working in Belgium or working with Belgians as a Chinese business person.

In Belgium, organizational structures tend to be rather flat, and procedures are easily comprehensible. Different from China, the company’s hierarchy, the job title and the size of the office are of less importance than a good salary, a comfortable working environment and a good relationship with colleagues. In Belgium, a lot of decisions are reached on the grounds of an overarching consensus. Employees prefer a manager who allows his subordinates to co-decide, resulting in an environment in which each person wants to have a say.Please contact the Belgian-Chinese Chamber of Commerce (BCECC) in case you need more information.

Belgians are pragmatic, but often slow in decision-making. Belgians often engage in long discussions before agreeing on a resolution to make sure that they have considered all the alternatives. When going into a negotiation, from the beginning they go into the discussion with an objective to achieve a consensus, rather than using an aggressive approach trying to win the discussion without giving in.

Most Belgians are hard-working, have a fair degree of self-control and are sincere. This is combined with a high degree of self-depreciation and a good sense of humor, also in the workplace. Belgians demonstrate a pragmatic and solution-oriented work ethic, which can sometimes lead to creative solutions. Belgians are world famous for being masters in compromise, also in business. It is no coincidence that many Belgian managers are in top positions at international companies and organizations.

Meetings should be well structured and focused, but there is always room for flexibility. It happens that important issues are discussed outside the meeting room. During meetings, many ideas are discussed, but often no decision is made or no conclusion is reached. Everyone is expected to be on time, but being 10 to 15 minutes late is generally accepted. In that case, it’s best to give notice about the delay. It’s better not to come too early, as this is not appreciated by many Belgians.

In terms of communication, the content of a message is important, but the relationship with the other person is also to be considered. In contrast to for example Dutch people, most Belgians prefer rather indirect communication. Being subtle is a mark of intelligence in Belgium, but it may be hard for non-Belgians to understand what Belgians mean ‘between the lines’. Communication between equals and often even between superiors and subordinates is quite informal. Humor between colleagues or in meetings is accepted in Belgium.

In Belgium, a good leader is considered to be a person (male of female) who gives the right example to his subordinates, thus getting back a great deal of respect from the staff. A manager should be reasonable and possess a good deal of common sense (‘down to earth’; ‘one of us’). He or she should give room for debate, in the end make a firm decision, but not in an aggressive manner.

When planning teamwork in Belgium, the selection of the team is based on specialization, but also on the personal relationship between the team members. Preference is given to finding solutions to a problem, rather than trying to analyze all the details of the problem. The role of each member of the team is not always clearly defined, sometimes leading to unclear responsibilities. During the project, a lot of informal consultations can be done between the team members, which is not seen as wrong by Belgians.

Belgians do not particularly enjoy conducting business over the phone; personal contact is much preferred. Since the Covid-pandemic, more and more people work flexible hours, or work from home.

If you are a Chinese person working in Belgium or you are working together with Belgians in China, give yourself some time to get acquainted with the Belgian way of doing business and give your Belgian counterpart some time to get to know you. Stay yourself, be pragmatic, and soon you will become great business partners and possibly even good friends. And if you come to Belgium, don’t forget to enjoy our nice country and the good food! Once you feel at home in Belgium, there’s a good chance you will come back again or even stay here for a long time.

Please contact the Belgian-Chinese Chamber of Commerce (BCECC) in case you need more information.