7 Key Differences between MENA and Western Business Culture
Crossing borders definitely mean a surge in business but, it also means surge in responsibilities, cross-cultural understanding etc especially in the MENA (Middle East and North Africa). Managing a business in the Middle East is difficult if an individual is accustomed to western business culture. Both the cultures are poles apart in various aspects like business cultures, interactions, meeting protocol, etiquettes etc.
Prominent Differences in Business Culture between MENA and Western Countries:
Cultural attributes: The MENA region inhabits, Arabs, Turks, Iranians, Israelis, Morrocans, Sudanese and Egyptians; and all these communities have their own distinctive and implicit business rules and cultures.
According to survey conducted in Kuwait 8500 Kuwaitis were surveyed and 60% of them told that their interaction with expatriates was limited and strictly business interactions. So, every business operator must regard stern conventions, like dressing conservatively, using suitable language and respecting the other's culture during business meetings. Whereas, in western culture business meetings can also be done over casual lunches or dinners.
Trust: The Middle Eastern culture rests on business relationships built on trust. Trust is a vital factor that would initiate any business in the Middle East, be it ecommerce or retail. Even though every MENA region has different ways of communicating, lack of trust among business partners is considered unfavorable. The client-customer loyalty is a foundation that is built on complete trust. Whereas in Western countries, business relationships are based on skill and proficiency of the other person.
Etiquettes and manners: People in the Middle East, abide by certain etiquettes and manners, whether in a personal or a business relationship. There are certain behaviors that should be avoided like using the left hand, consumption of alcohol and eating pork. These are some actions that should be strictly avoided, if you want to maintain a harmonious business relation. The European or Western culture, do abide by some etiquettes, but with time, it is termed as needless.
Verbal commitment: According to Middle Eastern customs, a person's word is considered much more valuable than written agreements and contracts. There prevails a different business structure. Failure in keeping word is a sign of irresponsibility and disrespect. People who are known for keeping their word are highly respected and trusted in the MENA business culture. Whereas, written contracts are considered the binding ground of any business deal or assignment in Western business culture.
Social gatherings: Invitation to social gatherings are common in the Gulf countries. Getting an invitation to a social gathering is a good start to meet people, but avoid talking about business in such places. People generally attend these events for merriment, so talking about business would be inappropriate. Invitations to such gatherings, should not be declined, as it may seem offensive to the host. People in the west are known to be carefree as compared to the people in the Middle East . They see no harm in talking about business outside the boardroom, social gatherings are also seen as places to partake in work discussions.
The politics of it: You might, or might not have opinions about the political scenario of the Middle East, but if you want to succeed in your business, politics must be kept aside. If asked about your opinion of the current political happenings, refrain yourself from speaking about the same or simply accept that you are unaware of the complete picture. Unlike avoiding discussion on politics in the Middle East, Western countries like talking about politics. According to the Americans, it is a great way to find like-minded people in the business.
Patience is key: The businessmen at the Gulf countries, know their business really well. Don't get disheartened if you do not crack the deal at the first meeting. Usually, in the Middle East, it takes almost 5-6 meetings, before the people start discussing business. Having patience is crucial if you want to succeed in the Middle East. However, meetings in Western countries are much more serious and to the point. A single meeting can decide the future of any business proposal.
Although there is a great disparity between the two regions, business is taken seriously in both parts of the world. While the MENA region is known to prioritize their culture, values and emotional conduct like trust above all, even the Middle East customer service functions according to these criteria, the Western world is much more casual, with an underlying serious professionalism. Conclusively, even though both the cultures are poles apart, respecting the customs and conventions of one another will be equally beneficial for the respective parties.
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