Doing business with the Middle East

16 Aug 2015

Entering into a new market is always challenging and if the new market is showing great innovation but low government support then even more so. While the Middle East is only now waking up to the potential of its people, many western nations and companies have spotted the talents and are willing to move in and invest to grow these businesses. Business in the West is conducted very different than the Middle East that is steeped in cultural etiquette even when it comes to business. Understanding these would be beneficial for any company that is planning to get into this region.

Before doing business in the Middle East it is imperative to learn about areas such as business culture, business etiquette, meeting protocol and negotiation techniques. Through such knowledge stereotypes are broken and barriers to communication reduced. Islam provides guidance, values and rules for personal life, community relations and ways of doing business. In terms of holidays and important festivals it is important to note that being a highly religious community they will not be too forthcoming if we fail to understand their need to dedicate time to their faith.

When doing business in the Middle East, handshakes are always used and can last a long time. Islamic etiquette recommends that one waits for the other to withdraw their hand first before doing the same. Arabs are fairly informal with names when doing business and generally address people by their first names. The roles of men and women are far more defined in the Arab culture. Interaction between the sexes is still frowned upon in certain arenas. However, when doing business in the Middle East it is not uncommon to come across women.

The Arabs do not separate professional and personal life. Doing business revolves much more around personal relationships, family ties, trust and honor. There is a tendency to prioritise personal matters above all else. It is therefore crucial that business relationships are built on mutual friendship and trust. The Middle Eastern culture places more value on someone’s word as opposed to a written agreement. A person’s word is connected to their honor. Contracts are viewed as memorandums of understanding rather than binding, fixed agreements. Punctuality is expected of foreigners. Although the Arabs place a high emphasis on punctuality they rarely practice it themselves. If negotiating, remember the Arabs were a trading people and are excellent negotiators.

Cross cultural understanding is an important tool for any international business person, company or organization to acquire when doing business abroad.

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