One of the most difficult concepts for many other cultures to grasp is the need to offer flattery in many business situations. Arabic is a language of hyperbole, where the merits of others are praised and overtly commented upon.
Therefore, during the relationship-building process, it is important to offer compliments to your host, his organisation, Saudi Arabia and the Muslim world in general. You, in return, will be complimented – do not seem distant, aloof or embarrassed if this happens – take the compliments in the spirit they are given.
You may be asked questions which seem overly familiar at a very early stage. Questions about marital status, children, religious convictions and personal wealth are commonplace. If you feel uncomfortable answering such questions, have a ready supply of stock answers at your disposal. Refrain from saying that you are an atheist as this is incomprehensible in a society in which the absolute existence of a monotheistic deity is a given.
People are reluctant to convey bad news to you about any business issues. When this characteristic is combined with natural Arabic hyperbole, it is important to maintain a sense of perspective when being given very positive feedback about any particular proposition.
Do not be surprised if people seem somewhat aggressive in meeting situations. Speaking volubly and with a rising tone shows sincerity. This denotes engagement and interest and is in no way a negative sign. (The ability to converse in this manner is a much-admired characteristic in the region.)
Finally, be aware of the importance of good, strong eye contact. A man’s sincerity and honour can be judged by their ability to look you in the eye. This can be somewhat uncomfortable for those from cultures with much weaker eye contact (many Asian countries) but efforts must be made in this area.
Avoid any negative references to Islam, the situation in the Middle East or the role of the House of Saud.
Written and Produced by Keith Warburton
This country profile has been produced to give a short overview of some of the key concepts to bear in mind when doing business with contacts in Saudi Arabia. It is intended to be an aid to business people who have commercial dealings with counterparties in the country but should not be seen as an exhaustive guide to this topic or as a substitute for more substantial research should there be a need.
With this in mind, we have covered the areas which are key to a better understanding of the cultural mindset underpinning business dealings in Saudi Arabia and which are, quite often, extremely different from the approach and thought processes associated with business in other parts of the world.
Therefore this briefing note is broken into short, bite-sized sections on the following topics: