Get to know the regional culture beneath the glitz and ultramodern feel of cities such as Dubai and other cities in the Gulf region.
These cities feel like Western metropolises, but they are Arabian cities where the rhythms of daily life are dictated by culture, religion and the challenges of the climate.
Because of religion, the working week starts on Sunday and ends on Thursday, with Friday and Saturday as the weekend. Because of the climate, office hours are usually from 8 am to 1 pm with downtime during the high temperatures of the afternoon; office hours then resume from 4 to 7 pm. During Ramadan time, the businesses have to reduce working hours by 2 hours per day or pay overtime.
If you are visiting to develop business relationships and negotiate, consider these guidelines about what to expect with business meetings
For meetings and in the office the preferred dress code is formal. Appearances are quite important in the Arabian culture and, if you want to make a good impression, dress well. Business women are expected to dress conservatively: long skirts, sleeves at elbow length or longer, and necklines that are unrevealing, not form fitting, are most appropriate.
An interesting paradox is the notion of personal space. Despite the expanse of open desert space in the region, there is no need to retreat back and be distant from your interlocutors—at least with individuals of the same gender. Though, it is important to note that gesticulating wildly and relying too much on talking with one’s hands may be considered impolite.
Morning meetings are best because of the climate, and breakfast meetings are widely accepted. You should be on time, regardless of the fact that it is a somewhat accepted custom to keep foreigners waiting. It is also possible to find out, after you arrive, that a meeting has been cancelled. Along the same lines, some business meetings held in UAE local offices may be subject to frequent interruptions.
The core of a business meeting generally starts after prolonged inquiries about health, family, etc. In this culture, small talk is expected as it is how one develops trust. It is best to ask after “family and children” together rather than just about the “wife”.
Overall, most meetings will run at a leisurely pace. In some circumstances, meetings will not be as private as you would expect until after a relationship of trust has been developed.
One reason that your potential Middle Eastern partner or client might maintain such a controlled environment is the prevalence of hierarchical roles. In addition, dealing with bureaucracy is a fact of life, so arm yourself with patience. Having been traders for centuries, Middle Eastern business people can make tough negotiators who don’t respond well to high pressure tactics. You might also encounter situations where declining an offer at least one time is common practice, and may not signal the end of the negotiations. This is similar to what one would find when bargaining for goods in the souk.
As problematic as it is to make generalizations, the Middle Eastern culture places a high value on saving face and dignity; thus being accurate or correct may not always be relevant. You might experience behaviors of conflict avoidance.
If you are managing or working closely with local employees, please keep in mind these additional cultural values
The Arabian culture is extremely verbal and visual so emphasize face-to-face meetings, verbal communications, charts rather than lengthy reports. Phone calls are preferred over emails.
The cultures in the entire Gulf Region view responsibilities towards families very seriously. Families are both large and close-knit groups. Nepotism is considered a good thing, since it implies that you are employing people you know and trust. Hence, the importance of developing relationships of trust with your local contacts. Personal trust and respect will carry the day over productivity and profitability.
Don’t be fooled by the façade of cosmopolitan cities when doing business in the Gulf States. The Arabian culture is still very much a factor to consider and to respect.