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
Saudi Arabia is a globally important country from a number of perspectives. As one of the world’s largest producers of oil, it has a strategic impact on the world’s economy (and only a handful of countries can say that). In addition, as the de facto leader of the Sunni branch of Islam, Saudi has a crucial influence on the rest of the Gulf and beyond into the wider Muslim world.
Saudi Arabia cannot be ignored – it really is that simple. Agree or disagree with the ways things are done in Saudi (any many vehemently disagree without really knowing much about the country) the Kingdom is just too globally significant to be ignored.
Is doing business in Saudi Arabia a good idea for you and your business? If you strip away all of the ‘noise’ which surrounds the country and analyse the fundamentals around demographics, size of the economy, personal wealth and attitude to consumerism, then Saudi starts to look like a great place to do business in. Saudi has a large, increasingly prosperous population which is predominantly youthful and aspirational. They want to buy what you have to sell.
On the other hand, Saudi Arabia is a notoriously complicated place to do business in and if you are planning on doing business in Saudi Arabia it is absolutely essential that you study the Saudi cultural approach to business before you arrive in-country. You need to understand the role played by religion and kinship in all business dealings within the Kingdom and you need to be able to show respect for these twin pillars of commerce. Do your homework in advance – not when you have already made the mistakes.
This country profile provides an overview of some of the key aspects of Saudi Arabian business culture in a concise, easy to follow-format. The document includes information on: