Remember that, despite its Western feel, the UAE remains an Islamic country and that great respect should be paid to Islamic tradition, beliefs and sensitivities.
More than 80% of the population of the region are non-Emirati and you are just as likely to be doing business with an American or an Australian as you are with a local.
The Emirates consists of seven, separate states which are all slightly different in feel and approach. If you are doing business outside the main centres of Dubai and Abu Dhabi, make sure you do some additional research.
Do not be surprised if local companies are very family–oriented and influenced. Nepotism is a way of life and is actively encouraged. You could find several family members in the same meeting.
Company structures will reflect this family-orientation through a strong sense of hierarchy. Try to find out the hierarchy of your counterpart – and look into who the real decision-makers are.
As throughout the Arab world, age is worthy of respect and honourable visitors will display respect to older people. Is it therefore a good idea to have a few older heads in your delegation?
Do not assume that any expatriate you deal with who works for a local company will be the final decision-maker. It is highly likely that the expatriate (whatever their job title) will need to report to a local senior official for final authority on any issue.
Management style is directional and employees expect managers to lead in a fairly authoritative manner. This can mean that instructions are given in a very direct, even abrupt way.
When in meetings, avoid pointing the soles of your shoes at your counterparties as this could be seen as rude. It is also best to pass any documents, refreshments etc. with your right hand.
Same gender tactility is very common – although public tactility across the genders is very rare and frowned upon.
Meetings can often appear unstructured with no (or little reference to) agenda. People may be present who are seemingly nothing to do with your meeting.
Meetings will not always (in fact very rarely) start on time. Levels of lateness can vary from a few minutes up to more than an hour.
Try not to arrange too many meetings on the same day as lack of punctuality, the unstructured nature of meetings and heavy traffic can make it difficult to pack lots of commitments into one time slot.
Arabic is a language of hyperbole. Therefore, it is common for business associates to lavish extravagant praise on each other as part of the all-important relationship building phase of doing business. Don’t feel inhibited to join in this process.
People do not like to say ‘no’ or deliver negative news. It can be very difficult to fully understand exactly how interested people are in your propositions. Only perseverance and patience will reveal the true picture.
Don’t take ‘yes’ to mean ’yes’ every time. It could be being used as a delaying tactic.
Emotional discourse denotes interest and engagement. Don’t mistake loudness and emotion for hostility or anger.
You should endeavour to maintain strong levels of eye contact (same sex) as strong eye contact denotes sincerity and trustworthiness.
Women play a more active role in business than in neighbouring Saudi, although some older, more traditional Emiratis may maintain a significant gender bias.
Dress conservatively, but very smartly. Modesty in dress code is important for women. You will be judged partly on your appearance.
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 the United Arab Emirates. 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 the United Arab Emirates 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: