Jun 17

Why do we

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Jun 17

Business with the Middle East : Cross Cultural Issues

The Middle East has taken on a central role in the global economy. Often referred to as the “new” market, the Middle East has become home to corporations from all industry sectors, universities and cultural institutions which are establishing themselves across the region. The Middle East holds an extremely high potential for growth of foreign businesses due to the dearth of technical expertise and advancement in the region. Countries in the Middle East are hungry for high-quality products and services. Various industries including medical services, infrastructure, construction, transportation, tourism and fashion industry amongst others consider the Middle East as a jackpot with huge investment potential.

As with any world region, knowledge of the unwritten business rules and etiquette in the Middle East is a prerequisite to dealing successfully with cross cultural challenges. There are key factors which distinguish the Middle East Business Culture from Western business perspective:

1. Cultural Drape : Cross Cultural Issues

The Middle East and the West are do not share a common business culture. They differ in the set of values, customs and understanding which are central to business operations. In the Middle East, the heads of business are persons of high status who command respect based on their social position. Power is ascribed to these individuals based on their social status whereas in the West power is more linked to one´s achievements than a birthright. Leaders from the Middle East assume unequivocal respect will be given to them by their business partners irrespective of their nationality. They implicitly expect to be given added value based on their status due to their presumption that “Name Association is Money”. The West will take a more rational approach and be less inclined to grant favors on the basis of individual status.

2. Trust: Relationships first and Commercial Conditions later : Cross Cultural Issues

Middle East partners are selective with whom they do business. In the Middle East, relationships play a significant role in all aspects of life and there is no separation between the business and the private person. Much time is invested in understanding and affirming the trustworthiness of a prospective business partner. This results in several official and unofficial meetings, in particular, face to face meetings here there does not appear to be any particular agenda. The agenda, often sought by the Westerner, is solely to get to know each other. Commercial terms and conditions are drawn out only after building a strong trust relationship with the business partner.

While in the West, Business means terms, contracts and conditions. In comparison, friendship with business partners may even be viewed as suspicious or problematic. Meetings are held precisely only for business purposes.

3. Lengthy and Unclear Decision-Making : Cross Cultural Issues

Be patient when expecting a decision from your Middle East partner. The length of time dedicated to making a decision is proportionate to the importance of the the matter at hand. If the issue is important then it will require a lengthier time for a decision to be made. Many factors influence the decision-making process; collectivism and group orientation, which means extensive consultation with many partners is required, family consultation and preservation of face or honor of the Middle East partner, a more relaxed attitude to time and a deep rooted belief in providence, meaning what is supposed to be will be. Therefore decisions are not forced and do not take place within certain time frames decided by external partners. Financial considerations, though important, are usually within the domain of the boss or business owner. Be prepared for a somewhat erratic approach around decisions and subsequent activities. It is not unusual for nothing to happen for a long time, then all at once a decision goes through and immediate responses and actions may be expected on your part.

West is quite spontaneous in decision-making and takes ownership during the call of an hour. Dependency on higher authorities is far less as compared to in Middle East.

4. Daring Ideas brought to Reality : Cross Cultural Issues

The Middle East has a lot of creative ideas, desires and aspirations. The ideas and proposals brought put forward by external business partners may often be overlooked or significantly modified. It is not uncommon that the Middle East partners initially agree on a plan or an idea ith their Western partner only to completely modify this without any notification or undue explanation. One beautiful day the Middle East partner reveals a far envisioned idea that to the Western parner looks way beyond the scope of the original plan. In addition, interestingly the Middle East partner is already making in-roads into turning his vision into reality while the Western partners are still trying to catch up with the changes and wondering how to react!

The West tends to draw clear boundaries around projects and plans and are cautious about crossing these boundaries. To the Middle Eastern partners, the Westerners look hesitant and less adaptable in the implementation of ideas which seem beyond their powers of imagination.

5. Interest Shown : Cross Cultural Issues

The Middle East partners attach much importance to themselves and their status. If a business partner intends to establish a successful business deal, they will have to demonstrate extreme reverence and manners in the follow-up activities and communication with the Middle East partner. Follow-ups activities are most fruitful when done in person. Phone or e-mail follow-ups usually show a lack of interest and even a lack of respect for the Middle East partner’s honor.

Phone and e-mail follow-ups are considered formal in West and they are responded with equal formality. West clearly demonstrates that name or status has no added value to the Business and only seriousness towards Business can lead to hand shake of Partners.

6. Etiquette : Cross Cultural Issues

A Business partner will be greeted with the Islamic greeting “Assalamu Alaikum” meaning “Peace be with you”. The Western business partner is not expected to reply with “Wa-alaikum Assalam” meaning “Peace be with you too”. However, if the they do use the Islamic greeting this will be much appreciated by the Middle East partner.

Prayer timings are observed strictly in the Middle East even during working hours and also between meetings. So expect prayer breaks. Also on meeting a female staff member of the Middle East, one is advised to refrain from any physical contact including a handshake.

There is quite some differences in the countries across the Middle East and it is important to be aware of this diversity and acquaint yourself with these differences. A common language and religion unites the countries however there are important differences in the interpretation and observance of religious values and norms.

A brief study into common business etiquette’s, working culture, meeting and communication mannerisms and negotiation techniques can contribute greatly to successful relationship building and business outcomes with your Middle East business partners.

Intercultural competence requires mutual adaptation! Middle East partners also need to familiarize themselves with the business etiquettes and work cultures in the West.

Knowledge about and respect for each other’s cultural values and norms play a key role in the success of cross-cultural business.