Working with clients in the Middle East requires understanding and respecting the cultural, social, and business norms of the region. The Middle East is a diverse and complex region, comprising various countries, each with its own unique customs and traditions. As a Westerner, being aware of these differences will help you build successful and respectful professional relationships. Here are some essential points to consider:
1. Cultural Awareness: Familiarize yourself with the cultural norms, values, and beliefs of the specific country or countries you will be dealing with. Respect religious practices and traditions, as they play a significant role in the daily lives of people in the region.
2. Business Etiquette: In the Middle East, personal relationships are crucial in business dealings. Take the time to build rapport with your clients and partners before discussing business matters. Meetings may involve small talk and socializing, so be patient and avoid rushing to the main agenda. This also applies to many other regions in the world. The bottom line, take your time and build a rapport.
3. Dress Code: Dress conservatively and modestly, especially when meeting clients in more traditional settings. In some countries, like Saudi Arabia, women may be required to wear an abaya (a loose, long cloak) in public places. The general rule of thumb, for women in protection, is always dress professionally and conservatively no matter where you are and who are working with. It's a matter of reputation and for women, it is very easily tarnished.
4. Language: While English is widely spoken in business settings, learning some basic Arabic phrases can be seen as a sign of respect and can help break the ice. Never go to another country expecting everyone will speak English. Do a little homework and learn a few words.
5. Punctuality: While punctuality is generally valued in business, the concept of time might be more flexible in some Middle Eastern cultures. Be prepared for some delays and avoid being overly impatient or frustrated. Remember, the schedule will always change at the last minute.
6. Handshakes and Greetings: Handshakes are common, but different countries may have specific customs regarding greetings. In some cases, men and women may not shake hands, especially if they don't know each other well. It's essential to be attentive to local practices. There is a fantastic book you can refer to, "Kiss, Bow, or Shake Hands" by Terri Morrison. It is a guide to doing business in more than 60 countries.
7. Gift-Giving: Gift-giving is a common practice, especially during religious holidays or to show appreciation. When offering gifts, be sensitive to cultural norms, and avoid items that may be considered inappropriate.
8. Business Cards: Present and receive business cards with both hands, and take a moment to examine the card before putting it away. This gesture shows respect for the person and their information. Although technology is rapidly changing the way we provide our business details, in some countries using such technology can be frowned upon.
9. Negotiation: Middle Eastern business culture often involves prolonged negotiations. Be patient, and don't rush the process. Building trust is essential, and it may take time to reach agreements.
10. Social Media: Be mindful of your online presence and the content you share on social media platforms, as it can influence how you are perceived by potential clients and partners in the Middle East.
Remember, the Middle East is not a monolithic region, and practices can vary significantly between countries and even within different regions of the same country. Always do thorough research and, when in doubt, ask your local contacts for guidance. Showing respect, cultural sensitivity, and a willingness to learn will go a long way in building successful business relationships in the Middle East.