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Establishing Business Relations in Dubai

Hi, Sunil here to talk about doing business in Dubai, specifically establishing business relations.

If you are from the West, you better slow down your approach to business if you want to succeed doing business in Dubai.

Why? Because unlike the USA for example, which is all about run and gun business, the Middle East region (and Asia) believes in taking time to build relationships.

And I don’t mean BUSINESS relationships.

As odd as it may sound to you, I mean personal relationships, as in getting to know the people you do business with, eating and hanging out with them, getting to know their families, you get the point.

Trust is a key factor of this relationship, and trust cannot be built overnight.

It takes time, persistence and a lot of time in the trenches establishing business relations in Dubai if you want to succeed.

So in Dubai:

Friends do favors for friends, and they really go out of their way to do it. This is a big mind-set difference from the West that is important to understand. This is the most under estimated aspect of establishing business relations in Dubai.

Your word of mouth is stronger than a legal contract. In the West, it’s all about signatures and dates (the beauty of capitalism - today he is your friend, tomorrow he is your foe’s friend).

When you hear an Arab say yes during the course of the conversation, do not take it as literal “yes”. When they say yes, it is merely a form of acknowledgement. It does not mean that they will actually do what they said yes to . . . lol.

Instead of a yes, you will sometimes hear them say “Insha-Allah”. This means “God wiling”. So it translates to: “God wiling we will get it done / it will happen”.

Forget About Privacy

There is no such thing in the Arabic world. The locals are warm hearted and love to socialize openly, which is one of the favorite past times of Arabs in the Middle Eastern environment. Walking into someone’s house without notice is very common, and so is asking private questions. The locals do not mean this with any intentions; it is just part of the local culture and tradition.

Watch Your Words

Words hold more weight than contracts sometimes. So if you say something like “I’ll have to take you to lunch sometime”, the local Arab will expect you to do so within a few days. If you don’t, you lose credibility in their eyes.

Middle Eastern Hospitality is a Must

It is considered a privilege to be visited by one of your friends or colleagues at home. This solidifies establishing business relations. As a host you must offer a drink and some snacks to eat. If you are the visitor, expect to be offered the same. Accept the glass with your right hand and take a sip even if you are not thirsty. Never refuse it outright. That is considered disrespect.

The same goes when dining. It is always good to offer your food to share with others around you. If you mind your own “plate” or business like we do in America, the local Arabs will think that you are being rude!

Physical Distance is Not a Big Deal

Americans and Europeans like to have their space, but local Arabs like closeness better. Get used to them stepping into your personal physical space. This is completely normal. Also don’t be surprised to see two Arab men walking down the street with their hands held. It took me a while to get used to it.

Doing Business With Local Arabs.

Pleasure first, then only business. This is the reverse of American business culture. In Arabic nations, building friendships and relationships beforehand is key. The unspoken rules of friendship mean much more than letters on a piece of paper. Personal relationships are a pre requisite to establishing business relations.

Read more about doing business in Dubai here.

Conducting Business Meetings

Never bring up business topics right away. Spend some time asking about how your business partner or colleague is. It is ok to ask about personal life like family, etc. This is all considered normal. You will be treated in the same way.

Treat Arab Employees With Respect

Establishing business relations extend to employees as well. No matter what you think of them and what you want to say to or about them to someone else, it is best to zip it up and not criticize and Arab employee working for you. If another local Arab hears you, they will think very negative of you and may not want to deal with you.

Informal / Indirect Communication

In the West, we take initiative and responsibility for everything pertaining to us. In the Middle East, it is very common for local Arabs to send someone to you as a messenger. It is perfectly acceptable if you were to use this way of communicating as well.

So for example, if you were a Manager and had some local Arab employees working for you, an employee might send his friend to you to ask for some personal time off on their behalf. Very interesting and normal in the Middle East. Dubai is a little more like America however but it still happens there.

Understanding Behavior

When dealing with a local Arab for the first time without prior contact, don’t be surprised if it seems that you are being ignored. This is nothing personal toward you. This is just how strangers are treated. In American it is common to get a smile and an occasional “hi” or “hello” from a stranger walking down the street. In Arab nations, strangers are ignored.

If you are a friend however, or someone with prior contact, you will be treated with all kinds of respect and sincerity. So again, don’t take it personally. Just go with the flow and take time when establishing business relations using the other guidelines in this discussion. It takes a good understanding of this in establishing business relations in Dubai.

Also, when discussing anything with a local Arab, don’t get offended when they start getting loud and banging on the table or even accidentally break something lol.

This is not a sign of anger, rather it is a sign of passion. It shows you that they are engaged and seriously pursuing the discussion. They are serious, they mean business.

Manipulation of Spoken Words

It is very important to be on the same page when dealing with a local Arab. Not because there is a chance to be intentionally mislead or cheated, but because an Arab may subjectively interpret your words different than what you meant them to be.

Arabs take a lot of pride in their day to day dealings, and admitting a mistake is a big deal to them. So do not display your stubbornness and argue. Instead, listen and allow them to save face. It will make them feel much better and will help you tremendously in your dealings with them now and later.

See sometimes they will know that they are wrong, but will be able to see that you have allowed them to “be right”. This will take you a long way in establishing business relations in Dubai and the Middle East in general.

The Face Behind the Business

Understand that it is YOU who the local Arabs are investing their time, attention and money in, not your business. Well not completely at least. In the Arab world, personal relationships matter the most. If they can trust you, like you and believe you, you can do well establishing business relationships with them.

Never break their trust or do something inappropriate to emotionally hurt them. Arabs are very warm, hospitable people that care most about friendship and maintaining good relationships. Business is secondary. This is a bid adjustment for you if you are from the Western world.

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There are many perceptions of Arabs around the world, just like Arabs perceive us in different ways. There are always general consensus and exceptions to everything. For the most part and in my experience, most Arabs are very nice, friendly and hospitable people.

They just need some time to get to know you. They are mostly interested in you, learning more about you and your family. Some of them however (exceptions) will already have a preconceived negative perception of you, especially if you are from the Western world. So be careful of this when establishing business relations.

They understand very well how conservative their culture is compared to the liberal (sometimes too liberal) culture in the West. Do understand however that no matter how hard some of them act or seem on the surface, they are very gentle and sincere inside. Be careful with their emotions and feelings.

While most discussion points in this section may sound awkward to you, they are very true indeed. Just remember that I wrote this in 2007. So as time passes on and societies evolve, expect to see the culture, traditions and ways of doing business change as well.

With growing globalization and more Arabs educated in Western institutions, the younger generation is blending in with the way we are used to doing business in West. I suspect this trend will continue to increase and you will see cross cultures, norms and ways of doing business blend in more than ever.

As I write this however, in Dubai, the old adage of who you know vs. what you know holds very true. And this may hold true 10, 50 or even 100 years from now.

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