Much of the Middle East’s wealth comes from oil and natural resources, with banking and tourism following close behind. Although some of the region is still struggling with political turmoil and conflict between differing ideologies, much of the Middle East is thriving with immense opportunities for foreign investment and continued economic growth.
The diverse countries of the Middle East each have their own unique identity and culture but they share many fundamental beliefs and traditions which are common throughout the region. Successfully doing business in the Middle Eastis impossible without understanding that Islam is a way of life in most Middle Eastern countries and it governs politics, family life, values and business practices. It is essential that you respect Islamic culture, customs and prayer times when doing business in the Middle East.
Personal relationships are highly valued in Middle Eastern cultures and networking is essential to develop relationships before doing business with counterparts in the Middle East. People in the Middle East tend to mix their business and personal life and therefore tend to use personal relationships to get things done.
The following tips will help you ensure that you maximise your opportunities for doing business in the Middle East.
- Dress conservatively when doing business in the Middle East. This is particularly important for female visitors.
- Bear in mind that business meetings are less structured in the Middle East than in the West so be ready for later starts, interruptions and deviations from the agenda.
- Avoid doing business during the holy month of Ramadan. Business activity reduces dramatically during this period as Muslims are required to fast from dawn to dusk and often participate in celebrations at the end of this period.
- Don’t forget that the working week usually begins on a Sunday and ends on a Thursday, though it could also begin on a Saturday and end on a Wednesday depending on which country you are doing business with. Always check beforehand.
- Try to avoid eating pork or drinking alcohol in the presence of your Middle Eastern colleagues and never use your left hand to pass food or drink.
- Take the time to develop personal relationships with your Middle Eastern partners and ensure you make small talk rather than jumping straight into business discussions.
- Bear in mind that your ‘word’ will be much more important than a written contract. Make sure you only make promises you can deliver otherwise you risk loss of honour.
- Remember that while it is polite to enquire about your colleague’s family, you should not ask specifically about female family members.
- Try not to show discomfort with close proximity or casual touching as this may cause offence.
- Take time to read about the culture of the country where you are going so you can make educated references to cultural traditions or events they may celebrate. This will show your interest and help give your counterparts in the Middle East a positive first impression.
Considering and respecting the top tips for doing business in the Middle East above is the first step towards building effective relationships with your counterparts from the region. Participating in a cross cultural awareness training course such as Doing Business in the Middle East will give you a deeper insight to the cultural differences you may find in the Middle East and it will improve your ability to anticipate and manage them effectively.
© Communicaid Group Ltd. 2011