Virtual communications—the Middle East.

Virtual communications—the Middle East.

Virtual communication is one of the most important parts of international commerce. It gives businesses the chance to conduct operations globally without having to physically move their offices. It may be one of the most basic elements in working abroad, because it helps reduce the need to travel and be on location for meetings. Despite all of the advantages that virtual communication offers, it does pose a few challenges for many organizations. It prevents people from exchanging nonverbal cues, which are very important aspects of conveying information. This is especially important for high-context communicators, who focus mainly on nonverbal signals.

The Middle East has a predominantly high-context communication style. Hand gestures, eye contact, posture, facial expressions, and even the intonation of your voice can drastically change the message you are trying to send. It is the non-verbal part that is the most important. This poses a problem for virtual communication. Lacking the chance to make physical contact, for example a firm handshake, can frustrate individuals and make or break a deal. The inability to show what you mean rather than say what you mean can become an obstacle in an attempt to establish a business relationship.

Whenever possible, in the Middle East, communications should be personal and not virtual. Verbal communication is a conscious activity and everything that you or your counterpart may say will have been prepared and pre-processed in the speaker’s head. Before any business can begin, you are likely to think very carefully about what exactly you will say to your conversation partner; thus, in non-verbal communication you are partially powerless. Facial reactions, hand gestures, your posture, and even use of silence are all automatic responses your body will give. They are key elements if you wish to understand what your colleague wants to tell you and to evaluate his or her intentions. They are also an excellent tool for demonstrating sincerity in negotiations, which can greatly enhance your professional credibility.

It is, however, possible that not all organizations have the ability to set up personal meetings solely for the purpose of establishing a relationship. To lessen the drawbacks of virtual communication in the high context–communication countries of the Middle East, you can focus on using more “personal” tools.

The next-best option to face-to-face meetings is videoconferencing. This can greatly enhance your ability to interpret nonverbal signals, put a face to a name and establish a connection. If this option is not available, your best bet is to use the phone. Anything in writing, such as letters and e-mails, should be as detailed as possible so that you can ensure against possible miscommunication

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