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Are you making the right impression in the Middle East?

When approaching businesses in the Middle East & North Africa regions, first impressions are everything. Avoiding a poor start is the crucial step to ensuring a potential new business relationship becomes a richer one. International Culture Pilot guides you through the essential dos and don’ts for those first-contact moments.

Picture one of these scenarios…

You have developed a high quality, technically-balanced, well-priced and well-presented proposal. You and your team have spent many hours running a SWOT analysis and have applied the very best of Business Development, Sales and Bid process principles – you are confident and have assured everyone that this is a good, strong proposal.

You have just finished the executive summary and have written a letter of introduction. You hit send and your correspondence is on its way.

…. then nothing.

All of your efforts have been for nothing – why? Because you haven’t considered the cultural differences between doing business in the West versus the Middle East.

Why first impressions matter in MENA?

How often have you heard varied opinions about the first impression – does it or does it not matter, really matter? Will it help make the first sale? Will it have an impact on the future relationship? Will the first meeting encourage your new contact to introduce you to other decision makers?

While Western dress codes, etiquette and behaviours are broadly aligned, we have learned to treat our differences with humour. We recognise travellers from the USA; we smile at the national accents that pervade the visitors’ use of English; we live up to the ‘better’ reputations of British dress codes; we are proud of national traits such as punctuality and efficiency, many of which have become an ‘amusing’ national characteristic. Our western cultures are broadly aligned, to the extent that it would take extreme behaviours or ignorance of local tradition to cause offence.

Not so in the Middle East. While the economic environment, stability and growth in areas such as the Gulf states are the envy of Western countries, with many flocking to the region to grab a piece of the pie, an understanding of the business culture, traditional good manners and etiquette remain critical, both amongst Arab nationals and when meeting the Western visitor.

Five minutes to make the right impression

To get off to a good start with businesses in MENA, instant proof of a Westerner’s understanding and respect of the established behaviours is essential within the first 1-5 (maximum) minutes of meeting.

Trust, friendship and mutual respect form the bedrock of any relationships with and in the region, where embarrassment (perhaps during a future meeting with a more senior Middle East contact) or loss of face must be avoided at all costs.

The art of the first impression

With English being the global language of business, Western Companies have been lulled into a false sense of security. In the Middle East culture, where English is the second language, making the right first impression with a few words in Arabic, could go a long way. In fact, we know that cultural nuances go beyond simply the language. We in the West must re-learn the art of the first impression and the importance of body language. We take many of the following for granted, assuming that they are ‘standard’, simple or indeed irrelevant in the Western society; this is not the case in the Middle East:

  • Time
  • Dress code
  • Hand shake
  • Greeting
  • How to accept refreshments
  • Entertaining

These different ‘codes of conduct’ are not difficult to learn and absorb. Indeed, ironically, it is the fact that these different customs are comparatively simple to understand and adopt, that makes any Western ignorance of them more frustrating for the younger, modern Middle East generation; their advanced knowledge and experience of doing business on a global scale is sensitively balanced with the traditional customs and etiquette passed down to them by their predecessors.

If you have ever questioned why you are not succeeding in the Middle East or you are acutely aware that crucial cultural groundwork needs to be implemented for you and your team, iCP can recommend the best route for your business.

Turn your cultural understanding and respect into the very advantage you seek – Contact us today for an initial, no-obligation discussion.

For more information about how iCP can help
your business, please call +44 (0)1451 844 462
or email us.