In the Arab Gulf states personal relationship with business or project partners is more important than anything else. Against that background verbal communication plays a vital role. The goal is to come to agreement on common action harmoniously.
Naturally, that sets the tone for meetings. Do not expect an agenda that is followed closely. Topics are discussed organically. Come with enough time and patience for lengthy digressions or even interruptions.
In the Gulf Arab area meetings with foreign business partners are mostly conducted in English. If your Gulf Arab hosts do not speak enough English, they will make sure that an interpreter sits at the table.
If you cultivate business relationships over a lengthy period in the Arab Gulf states you should perhaps learn a few expressions of greetings and gratitude in the local language to create a basis of trust.
Appointments and time
Your Gulf Arab business partners have a casual concept of time. If not all of the invited colleagues or business partners show up at the right time in the conference room, it’s not a sign of disinterest or disrespect. Even short-term cancellation or delay of an appointment is normal.
It is best to confirm the time of a meeting shortly beforehand by phone, but still count on your Gulf Arab business partner’s late arrival.
Time is an elastic concept in the Arabic world and not a very important one at that.
Use the time before all have arrived for small talk with those already present. Stick to personal matters, not business. They want to get to know you as a human being. Answer questions openly and willingly and do not forget to ask questions in return that show your reciprocal interest.
As a rule, never try to skip small talk! Trying to get down to business too quickly can backfire. In the Arab Gulf states a personal relationship must always first be established before people are ready to do business deals with each other.
Order of seating
The hierarchy of a firm plays an essential role in seating order. The person who has the highest rank in the hierarchy usually sits at the head of the table. A potential client stands a little higher in the hierarchy than the vendor. All other participants are placed according to the hierarchy. Always let your host in the Gulf Arab firm guide and show you where you should sit.
Running a meeting
The rule is that whoever issued the invitation to the meeting runs it. In the Arab Gulf states it is always the host who sets the framework, not the vendor.
Holding a conversation
Caution is always a good strategy and in general you should speak only when you are asked to. Always address the highest-ranking Gulf Arab participant first.
When you speak it should always be possible for your Gulf Arab conversation partner to maintain dignity. That means, for example, that you do not correct and hence show up a higher-ranked Gulf Arab in front of his staff.
For example, do not react to criticism, but rather emphasize advantages and usefulness to preserve the positive atmosphere. In the Gulf Arab world of business it is not well received if you always say what you think – even if it is correct. Remembering that is the alpha and the omega.
Apart from that it is true that Gulf Arabs communicate in a very roundabout way. Also, meetings with Gulf Arab business partners are often interrupted indefinitely by phone calls or unexpected visits. These things often drag out intolerably long for foreign business partners.
However, that should not be mistaken for impoliteness or lack of professionalism. According to their belief that relationships are paramount, Gulf Arabs offer all the time in the world to their conversation partners – or someone who rings. There is only one thing that helps: endless patience and flexibility as regards time.