Saudi Arabian Meetings

By Western standards, meetings in Saudi Arabia can seem unusual affairs with many of the commonplace procedures and processes being ignored.

Firstly, when meeting someone for the first time, do not be surprised to find yourself ushered into a room with several other people who you have never met and do not know. It is likely that the other people present do not know each other either. Your contact is then likely to give you some undivided attention before returning to a conversation he was having with someone else prior to your arrival. You might then be expected to sit in the room for a considerable period of time before your turn comes around again.

This process can be very frustrating for the task-oriented, time-dominated Westerner. Meetings can drag on for hours with little, if anything, being achieved. Indeed, because of this process it can be difficult to schedule more than one or two meetings per day.

Secondly, as relationships are all-important, many meetings can be spent in a seemingly endless round of ‘getting to know you’ sessions. It would be highly unusual to go into a meeting with a formal agenda and a designated chairman. Discussions can, therefore, appear disjointed with several people speaking at the same time.

Try not to show annoyance or disapproval if meetings do not proceed along western patterns. Your ability to interact effectively in the eyes of your Saudi contacts will, in large measure, determine their opinion of you.

Gift Giving

It is not obligatory to give gifts when visiting a Saudi – either at the office or at home – but gifts can be helpful in the relationship building process. When offering a gift, it is likely that the gift will not be opened in front of the giver.

When giving gifts be conscious of Muslim sensitivities and avoid the following:

  • Alcohol
  • Pork
  • Knives
  • Pigskin
  • Perfumes with alcohol
  • Any images with nude women

A brief overview of some key concepts to consider when doing business in Saudi Arabia

Written and Produced by Keith Warburton

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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:

  • Background to business
  • Business Structures
  • Management style
  • Meetings
  • Teamwork
  • Communication
  • Women in business
  • Entertaining
  • Top tips