Business Culture & Etiquette
The UAE is a highly cosmopolitan well-educated society, familiar with the methods and means of doing business worldwide. However, there are a few points that people new to the Arabian business environment should keep in mind. Here, more than anywhere else, business is conducted on the basis of personal relationships and mutual trust. It is vitally important to build on these. Although it is changing rapidly and large firms are structured as in the rest of the world, companies are often a family affair, with the ultimate decision-maker being the head of the family. Even if this is not the case, it is essential to clearly identify the decision-maker. However, your initial meetings will probably be at a lower level. These are also very important as a means of building mutual trust. Print your business card in English and Arabic and make sure that all brochures and presentation material are full-colour and well produced.
Good manners and courtesy are prized attributes. Nevertheless, although you should always arrive on time for a meeting, punctuality is not considered a virtue and you may be kept waiting before or during your meeting. Do not be impatient. Take the time to chat and drink the coffee, tea or soft drink that is always on offer and establish the relationships that will stand you in good stead. Do not be put off if your meeting is interrupted by other guests or telephone conversations. The upfront, hard-hitting approach is generally not welcome. Be aware that what may seem like evasiveness on the part of your host is usually an unwillingness to say no to your face. Nevertheless, once a deal is made, orally or otherwise, an Arab businessman’s word is his bond and you are also expected to perform accordingly, even if the agreement is a verbal one. This can be disconcerting if you come from a business environment where verbal agreements are not binding. Hospitality is a way of life in the Arab world and business is frequently conducted over lunch or dinner – more than likely in a hotel or restaurant. Business meetings with Arab clients or colleagues may begin with a very informal preamble. They often take place in restaurants or cafes at a hotel rather than an office, beginning with polite conversation, usually about each other’s families. However, whenever the conversation turns to business it is usually resolved much quicker than in formal western business meetings. When meeting a handshake is followed by a touch of the heart with the right hand to show sincerity, and a woman’s hand is shaken only if it is offered. Although business meetings are less formal than western standards, by contrast business lunches tend to be more formal. As a strict rule alcohol is never involved, and it is essential that when sitting opposite an Arab colleague or client that the soles of shoes are not directed towards them as that is considered extremely offensive in Arabic culture.
Though often described as the most cosmopolitan and liberal of the Arab states, Dubai still adheres to an unspoken dress code that is both conservative and modest compared to that experienced in the West. In particular those working in the more rural and therefore traditional areas should take care to wear clothing that covers the body and limbs. Despite the often oppressive heat, those doing business in Dubai are expected to present themselves smartly. Although proper dress is important for all business dealings, the local climate has dictated that a shirt and tie (for men) is sufficient for all but the most important of business encounters; women usually choose a suit or a skirt and blouse and nothing too revealing.