A kingdom built upon and unified by Islam, Saudi Arabia, with its vast plains and endless deserts has fascinated travellers for centuries. Occupying nearly 80% of the Arabian Peninsula and the largest exporter of petroleum in the world, Saudi Arabia hosts a series of buzzing and successful cities. A monarchy with a rich Arab and Muslim heritage, Saudi Arabia is also characterised for its high degree of cultural homogeneity.
Cross-cultural training courses such as Living and Working in Saudi Arabia increase an organisation’s awareness and understanding of some of the potential cultural differences which may act as stumbling blocks for companies working in Saudi Arabia. Intercultural Training Middle East programmes ensure that all concerned create strategies for drawing benefits from these differences.
The following are five of the key cultural concepts international organisations face when setting up or doing business in Saudi Arabia.
Communication Style – Differences in communication styles can often be a cultural challenge and as a result, international organisations doing business in Saudi Arabia without adequate briefing may often find themselves feeling confused and frustrated. The communication style in Saudi Arabia tends to be quite indirect and high context. In other words, this means that communication styles in Saudi Arabia tend to rely more heavily on body language and other non-verbal cues such as tone of voice and the use of silence. When doing business in Saudi Arabia, it is wise to remember that information is rarely explicitly stated, silence is often used for contemplation and a direct “no” is almost never used.
Islam – Islam touches many aspects of society within Saudi Arabia. The country is governed on the basis of Sharia (Islamic Law) and a great majority of the population are Arabs who adhere to the Wahhabi sect of Islam. Islam shapes the values and rules concerning the appropriate way to behave and relate to family, community and business. As a result there are customs and social duties that affect the Saudi Arabian business world and affect the way business is dealt with. In the world’s current climate, several stereotypes are prevalent concerning Islamic faith and therefore when doing business in Saudi Arabia it is important to reserve time to research Islam yourself. Ignorance as to how Islam influences business and every day life could damage relations.
Relationships – Personal relationships are a fundamental aspect of Middle Eastern culture. People take a sincere interest in each other and invest a lot of time in getting to know others. There isn’t a clear line of distinction between business and personal relationships which means that one is quite often used to further the interests of the other. People tend to prefer getting to know a person before trusting them in business. When doing business in Saudi Arabia, remember that a huge emphasis is placed on networks and refusing requests made by friends is often considered rude. Great pride is placed in hospitality with which a person’s character is measured, take advantage of this opportunity to develop personal and professional relationships.
Attitude to time – Although punctuality is expected of foreigners, business in Saudi Arabia has a more flexible attitude towards time and business meetings tend to be less structured in nature. However, it is rare for meetings to intrude on daily prayers and equally, when doing business in Saudi Arabia, considerations must be made to schedule business meetings in a way that does not interfere with prayer times. Furthermore, it is important to remember that the working week begins on a Saturday and ends on Wednesday with Thursday and Friday being the official days of rest.
Hierarchy – Saudi Arabian culture places great emphasis on dignity and respect. Younger people are expected to display this respect to their elders by using the appropriate titles and levels of deference. Within business, leaders distribute power from the top and only those in senior positions have decision making capacity. When entering a room or greeting your Saudi counterparts for the first time you should approach the most senior person first.
In many ways, Saudi Arabia remains a sensitive region in terms of economy, religion and culture. Although an important first step, it is not enough to simply recognise the intercultural differences that exist when doing business in Saudi Arabia. International organisations must also strive to comprehend the reasons behind cultural challenges in order to be able to exploit differences to create benefits. A Cross Cultural Training Middle East course such as Doing Business in Saudi Arabia will help organisations develop strategies to maximise the potential of doing business in Saudi Arabia. Moreover, intercultural training will contribute towards the development of an interculturally competent workforce, a definite advantage in today’s fiercely competitive global business environment.
© Communicaid Group Ltd. 2010