By comparing the views of managers working at the interface of two consensus-oriented societies, Japan and the Netherlands, we show important differences between the consensus decision-making processes as seen by Japanese and Dutch managers. These differences relate to how complete the agreement of opinion should be in order to speak of consensus, with the Japanese managers demanding a more complete consensus than the Dutch. The processes and conditions that Japanese and Dutch managers see as leading to consensus also differ. Japanese consensus is based on a more ordered, sequential process than Dutch consensus. Our respondents differed deeply regarding the role of the hierarchy in their own and the others' consensus processes, with both Japanese and Dutch managers seeing their own consensus process as less hierarchical. Our findings show that the concept of consensus is interpreted quite differently by Japanese and Dutch managers. This is an important warning for companies operating at the interface of these two societies. More in general our research illustrates the usefulness for international management research of detailed comparative studies focusing not on stark contrasts but on more subtle differences between management practices. © Blackwell Publishing Ltd 2007.