While the business world in the Middle East is exciting, it is also based on very strong values of respect and hospitality. Here's how to avoid faux-pas and make a good impression during your business trips.
No stranger to the business world, the Middle East uses English for business meetings. Nevertheless, Arabs are very proud of their language, and your efforts to speak it will be appreciated as a sign of respect. If possible, you should try to learn a few basic phrases in Arabic; especially greetings, how to introduce yourself, thank, and say goodbye to your discussion partners. Don’t forget to include the Arabic translation of your brochures
and business cards, under the text in English. Finally, remember that Arabic is a language that's read from right to left. As such, be sure to place your logo accordingly for example.
For business meetings, you are expected to dress smartly and conservatively
. Despite the heat, men should wear a suit and tie. Women should take care to cover their shoulders, arms and legs, and while a modern dress-style may be adopted, visible necklines and tight clothing should be avoided. The material your clothes are made of is also important: good-quality clothing is taken as a sign that you have a good job. Bear this in mind when you pack! Finally, while it's not uncommon for your local discussion partners to wear traditional dress, even during business meetings, this is something you should avoid doing as it may be taken as an offence.
During your business meeting, you might be surprised at timing! As a visitor, it's up to you to arrive early, although this may not be the case of your discussion partners! Delays, interruptions, and even prayer breaks are frequent. Be patient; this is not a sign of disrespect!
If you need to book a meeting or conference venue
, remember to do so in advance and organise different media (paper and digital), adapters (plugs are as for England), and meals if appropriate. In respect of schedule planning, remember to take payer times and the month of Ramadan into account.
You should be aware that the pace of negotiation is slower than in the West. Do not try to rush things; in the Middle East decisions are taken in consultation with the team, so it's normal for them to take their time.
Disagreement? Try not to disagree with anyone directly, especially in public. Keeping face is extremely important in the Middle East. If you cause someone to lose face, you can say goodbye to your business deal. Best thing to do? Always exercise tact, and express your opinion later by email, for example.
A sense of hospitality is a precious value in the Middle East. It’s customary to offer coffee, along with dates and refreshments on all occasions. Don't hesitate to do as your discussion partners and accept this hospitality. Similarly, it is considered good manners to make small talk, to ask after family and about health, adding a few anecdotes of your own, about your trip for example. Short 'friendly' chats are very popular.
In Middle Eastern countries, no time of the year is more sacred than Ramadan. Business hours are adjusted automatically: during the month of Ramadan the working day begins earlier and is on average two hours shorter. This is something that should be taken into consideration. Also, don't forget that Ramadan
is a period of fasting: it is therefore impolite to eat and drink in public. On the other hand, your discussion partners will appreciate an invitation to dinner when they break their fast in the evening. The ideal time to get your deal moving!