Building business relationships, meeting & greeting—the Middle East
Large Power Distance is a dominant characteristic of the region according to Geert Hofstede. This means that there is a large amount of inequality in the distribution of wealth and power. Rank is extremely important, and there is not much mobility in socioeconomic status. The most important decision maker is usually in one of the highest positions, but he makes the decisions only in consensus with the group. When negotiating, you should recognize this collectivist attitude; however, it is a good idea to locate the key decision makers. At a meeting, the most influential individual will most likely be a silent observer.
To correctly address someone, learn the pronunciation of their name before you meet them. Middle Easterners often have multiple names, and it is important to request an English version of their business cards. Names are typically written in the following order: title, first name, middle name, and surname. In written correspondence, you should always use the full name; however, when meeting, just the title and the surname will suffice. It is very important to greet your host by their title, in order to demonstrate respect. Your host may address you differently, depending on the closeness of your relationship and on the context. It is not uncommon for a Middle Easterner to use your first name at a dinner, and your title and surname during a meeting.
Learn the customary greeting and how to pronounce it. The most common is as-salāmu ‘alaikum “As-salaam alay-kum.” This means “May peace be upon you and may God’s blessings be with you.” Women should wait for a man to offer a handshake when greeting. Men should initiate a greeting and traditionally shake the right hand. The left hand is considered unclean and it is advisable to avoid shaking hands with it. In addition, eating or pointing with the left hand is extremely impolite.
The time horizon is Circular. Everything takes time and there is a right time for everything. The nature of negotiations is contingent upon the strength of your relationship with your Middle Eastern colleagues. Meetings are lengthy and usually involve long conversations off topic. Interruptions are very common. If your host leaves for a short amount of time, it is usually for the daily prayer, and the meeting will resume in 15–20 minutes.
The Middle East is highly Collectivist, meaning that loyalty plays an important role. Societies that score high in this dimension value communal goals over those of the individual. Demonstrating mutual benefits to a proposal will only aid negotiations. Do not rush deals, but rather embrace the opportunity to converse with your host and get to know them. Avoid the topics of women and politics in general. A good idea for a conversation topic is sports.