Doing Business in The Middle East
In a globalised economy, working or doing business in the Middle East tends to present a larger than usual challenge for most Western business professionals. Even defining the Middle East is complex, taking cultural, geopolitical and religious issues into account.
Westerners working in the Middle East are best placed for success when they take into account a wide range of different values, attitudes, behaviours and Middle East business practices. As the Gulf countries depend heavily on expatriate labour, these challenges must be approached not only from an Arab and Muslim point of view, but also from the point of view of other expatriates, including those from other Arab countries, the Indian subcontinent and the Far East as well as multiple Western expatriate cultures based in the region.
Western business professionals working in the Middle East would benefit from learning the rhythms of business in the region and how they differ from business practices back home. Those who are working in many countries in the region will also want to learn about differences within the region; for example, working in Saudi Arabia varies tremendously from working in Lebanon.
Western business professionals who recognise and adapt to cultural differences are undoubtedly better placed to be successful when working in the region. Understanding the fundamentals of Islamic business practice is crucial in the Middle East – from prayer times to Ramadan, as Islam’s influence is pervasive as a way of life. Day to day differences, such as the importance of modest dress for both genders (and how it differs from country to country) can avoid offence and show respect.
Understanding local business etiquette is as important as avoiding political, social and everyday taboos. Other business practices surrounding attitudes to relationship building and trust, hierarchy and status, time, deadlines, multitasking, negotiating, communication styles, and the importance of managing business with family and religious commitments that are vastly different to most of the West, all of which are of interest to sales, marketing, new business development and project management professionals, must be taken into account.
Finally, many Western business professionals must also manage frustrations that are common when working in the Middle East, from coping with fatalistic attitudes alien to most Westerners to the need to manage expectations back home, where expectations may not be in line with the realities of the region.
By Donna Marsh author of The Middle East Unveiled, see www.the-middle-east-unveiled.co.uk