Business Culture

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Arabian Business Culture

There is no separation between you as a person and the business you represent or conduct in the Arabian world. Business is not only business.

If you are not a Muslim, you may not enter Saudi Arabia without an invitation and you may not leave without an exit permit. Visitors to Saudi Arabia are subject to the same rigorous Islamic law as Saudis. It is not uncommon for Westerners to be imprisoned for possessing illegal substances such as alcohol, pornography, pork or narcotics. Thieves still have their hands amputated and capital crimes are punished by public beheadings.

1. Business practice:

The customary greeting is "As-salam alaikum" (peace be upon you), to which the reply is "Wa alaikum as-salam" (and upon you be peace). When entering a meeting, general introductions will begin with a handshake. You should greet each of your Saudi counterparts individually, making your way around the room in an anti-clockwise direction. However, it is generally uncommon for a Muslim man to shake hands with a woman therefore; it is advisable for business women to wait for a man to offer his hand first. A more traditional greeting between men involves grasping each others right hand, placing the left hand on the others right shoulder and exchanging kisses on each cheek.

You should address your counterparts with the appropriate titles: Doctor, "Shaikh" (chief), "Mohandas" (engineer) and "Ustadh" (professor), followed by the first name. It is best to get the names and correct form of address of those you will be doing business with before hand, as names are often confusing. The word "bin" (son of) and "bint" (daughter of) may be present a number of times in a person's name, as Saudi names are indicators of genealogy.

Business cards are common but not essential to Saudi Arabian business culture. If you intend to use business cards whilst in Saudi Arabia, ensure that you have the information printed in both English and Arabic.

There exists a distinct dichotomy between subordinates and managers within Saudi Arabian companies. Those with most authority are expected and accepted to issue complete and specific directives to others.

Age plays a significant part in the culture of Saudi Arabia. For this reason, greater respect must be shown to elders at all times. For example, when first entering a room or greeting your Saudi counterparts for the first time, you should shake hands with the most senior person first.

Also, the person who asks the most of the questions is considered to be the least respected or least important, so dont assume that he holds the most responsibility. The decision maker is more often than not a silent observer. For this reason, if you are in a business meeting, it is advised not to ask all the questions.

Initial business meetings are often a way to become acquainted with your prospective counterparts. They are generally long in duration and discussions are conducted at a leisurely pace over tea and coffee. Time should be allocated for such business meetings, as they are an essential part of Saudi Arabian business culture.

You shouldnt rush your Arabian counterparts during business negotiations and be patient, as communications occur at a slower pace in Saudi Arabia, even with periods of silence.

When someone is pressuring an Arabian businessman into committing himself to a matter that is not of interest or beyond his capability, he might indirectly refuse the matter by offering to study the subject, which might be interpreted as a yes answer. So remember that pressure sales tactics are not recommended, because they cause discomfort and might associate you as a person with unpleasant presence. There is no separation between you as a person and the business you represent or conduct in the Arabian world. Business is not only business.

In Saudi Arabia the spoken word has much more weight than written agreements. An agreement is only final when both parties have parted. Until then it is open to negotiation, even if the contract has been signed.

In a culture where confrontation and conflict are to be avoided, the concept of face is a fundamental issue of daily life. Dignity and respect are key elements in Saudi Arabian culture and saving face, through the use of compromise, patience and self-control is a means by which to maintain these qualities. Arabian culture utilizes the concept of face to solve conflicts and avoid embarrassing or discomforting others. In a business context, preventing loss of face is equally important and essential for your future business success in Saudi Arabia. For instance, your Saudi Arabian counterparts will not take well to pressure tactics that place them in an uncomfortable position, thus forcing them to lose face.

2. Planning a meeting:

Generally speaking, business appointments in Saudi Arabia are necessary. However, some Saudi business executives and officials may be reluctant to schedule an appointment until after their visitors have arrived.

The Saudi working week begins on Saturday and ends on Wednesday. Thursday and Friday are the official days of rest. Office hours tend to be 09:00-13:00 and 16:30-20:00, with some regional variation.

Appointments should be scheduled in accordance with the religious holidays of Ramadan and Hajj and the five daily prayer times, otherwise the host may interrupt the meeting for a few minutes, for the purpose of his prayer. It is customary to make appointments for times of day rather than precise hours as the relaxed and hospitable nature of Saudi business culture may cause delays in schedule.

The concept of time in Saudi Arabia is considerably different to that of many Western cultures. Time is not an issue; therefore Saudi Arabians are generally unpunctual compared to Western standards. Despite this, it is unusual for meetings to encroach on daily prayers and you will be expected to arrive at appointments on time.

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