UAE Business Etiquette
Religion has played an important and influential role in shaping the society and culture of the UAE. Islam is the official and majority religion and pervades almost every aspect of life. Education, Laws, food, clothes, daily routines and even conversations are all strongly influenced by Islam. The Islamic faith places great emphasis on behaviors such as generosity, respect and modesty which most Emiratis will display.
Hospitality is an essential part of Emirati culture and applies to both social and professional contexts. Guests will be received with enormous generosity. In the home this usually comes in the form of a feast of traditional Emirati food, especially during the holidays, while in a business context, meetings are almost always accompanied by traditional Arab coffee and pastries. Sharing coffee is an important social ritual in the Middle East and it should be taken when offered. Cups should be taken in the right hand and, if there is a waiter standing by replenishing your cup, there are two ways to signal that you have had enough; either leave a small amount of coffee in the bottom of your cup or gently tip the cup from side to side. The emphasis placed on hospitality is closely connected to the importance of relationships. Foreigners should show their gratitude and dedicate time to cultivating relationships with their Emirati counterparts.
Today, Abu Dhabi is a thriving business centre with immense opportunities for foreign investment and continued economic growth. For those wishing to become involved in this lucrative market, the key to success is first understanding Emirati culture and UAE business etiquette.
Working practices in UAE
• The working week traditionally starts on Sunday and ends on Thursday. Friday and Saturday are the official days of rest, though in some cases, people will work Saturdays.
• Meetings should be scheduled in advance with extra time allocated in case it should go on longer or start later than anticipated. In any meeting or telephone conversation, a period of small talk is expected before the purpose of the meeting or call is discussed
• The Emirate is a considerable modern state in relation to the rest of the Middle East. As such, many traditional attitudes and business practices are evolving towards a more Westernized approach. Nevertheless, it is still important to be aware and respectful of some of the differences that might exist as a part of Emirati business etiquette in UAE.
Structure and hierarchy in Emirati companies
• There is a strong vertical hierarchy in most Emirati companies. Many are owned and run by one powerful person who makes all of the decisions. This person must be treated with respect and deference, particularly if you hope to have a successful business relationship.
• Age, money and family connections are all key determining factors of a person’s status. Who you are is usually more important than what you have achieved. It is not uncommon to therefore find many members of one family working for the same company.
• Status is important and must be recognized by using the correct title such as Shaikh (chief), Mohandas (engineer) and Ustadh (professor). If you are unsure of someone’s title, find out beforehand or ask the person who introduced you.
• When first meeting a group of people, it is important that you shake hands and greet the most senior person first. Usually the oldest person in the room has the most seniority, but you might find there is another person who has stepped in to make the decisions. Always try to find out titles and status of the people you are meeting beforehand so as to show the right amount of respect.
Working relationships in UAE
• People in the UAE prefer to do business in person. Relationships and mutual trust are paramount for any successful business interaction and can only be developed through face-to-face meetings. It is important to spend time with your Emirati business counterparts and ensure future meetings take place to continue cultivating the relationship.
• It is important to have connections to someone in the UAE who can introduce you before attempting to do business there on your own. Emirati people prefer to do business with those they know, so having someone to introduce you will be of immense benefit to your business relationship.
Business practices in UAE
• The customary greeting is As-salam alaikum (peace be upon you) to which the reply is Wa alaikum as-salam (and upon you be peace). When entering a meeting, general introductions will begin with a handshake. You should greet each of your Emirati counterparts individually. In line with Muslim customs, avoid shaking hands with a woman unless they extend their hand first.
• Initial business meetings are often a way to become acquainted with your prospective counterparts. They are generally longer in duration and discussions are conducted at a leisurely pace over tea and coffee. Time should be allocated for such business meetings, as they are an essential part of the Emirati business culture.
• Business cards are common but not essential to Emirati business culture. If you do intend to use business cards whilst in the UAE, ensure that the information is printed in both English and Arabic.
• Visitors to Abu Dhabi are expected to abide by local standards of modesty however, do not adopt native clothing. Traditional clothes on foreigners may be offensive.
• Despite the heat, most of the body must always remain covered.
• A jacket and tie are usually required for men at business meetings. Men should wear long pants and a shirt, preferably long sleeved, buttoned up to the collar. Men should also avoid wearing visible jewelry, particularly around the neck.
• Women should always wear modest clothing in public. High neckline sleeves at least to the elbows are expected. Hemlines, if not ankle length should at least be well below the knee.
• Avoid admiring an item to an excess, your host may feel obligated to give it to you. When offered a gift, it is impolite to refuse.
• Alcohol and pork are not consumed by those that observe the Muslim religion.
• There are several styles of greetings in use, it is best to wait for your counterpart to initiate the greeting. Men shake hands with other men. A more traditional greeting between men involves grasping each other’s right hand, placing the left hand on the other’s right shoulder and exchanging kisses on each cheek. A nose kiss is a customary greeting in the Gulf region but is only used between close friends and associates.
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