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Business Culture & Etiquette in the UAE & Qatar

If you’re relocating to the UAE or Qatar, it is more than likely that you will take part in a business meeting during your time in the country. Each of the countries in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) are unique in their own way, though because of their similar religious beliefs, they have several commonalities when it comes to business culture and etiquette. As a result, bringing Western culture into a business meeting in these countries, no matter how successful these strategies may have been in the West, may lead to awkward situations or cause offence. If you’re looking to brush up on your business culture and etiquette in the UAE & Qatar, here are a few tips to get you on the right path.

Greetings

There are few things as important as making a good first impression when it comes to business meetings abroad. While English is widely used in business meetings across the GCC, using the standard Islamic greeting “Assalamo Alaikum” or returning this greeting with “wa alaikum assalam”, is the perfect way to make a great first impression. It’s also considered a sign of respect to greet the most senior person in the room first, and to always use your right hand when handing anything over. In many Muslim countries, the left hand is traditionally reserved for bodily hygiene and so is deemed to be unclean.

Hand shaking is a standard form of greeting in the West, and although this does not necessarily differ in GCC countries, there are practices when it comes to male/female handshakes. When greeting a man, if you are a man in a professional setting, then handshakes are always used. Handshakes may generally last longer than they do in the West and it is common for a male colleague to hold another man’s hand and lead them to the business room – this does not have the same connotations as it does it the West. If you are a man greeting a woman, you should not approach with any form of physical greeting, unless the female initiates it first. If you are a woman being introduced to a Muslim man, it is important to wait and see if he initiates a handshake. If he does not, then do not initiate one. If you are a woman meeting a woman, then wait for her to greet you. A hand may also be placed across your chest as a form of greeting.

Dressing conservatively, particularly if you are female, and covering your shoulders and knees are also important parts of business culture and etiquette in the UAE and Qatar. This isn’t just part of business culture however – it’s an important in every aspect of everyday life in the GCC.

Conversation

It is important to realise that in the UAE and Qatar, personal and professional relationships are not considered separate as they are in the West. As a result, many people in these countries will prefer to do business with people they know. As a result, your first meetings are important to gain familiarity, building trust and relationships in the process. During conversation it is polite to ask about the family of the individual you are doing business with – although it is considered offensive to ask specifically about their wife, sister or daughter. Incidentally, it is considered rude not to ask about a person’s family, especially their children.

Status is also important, so using the correct title such as Sheikh, Sheikha, Sayed or Sayeda is a must. However you may notice that people in the GCC generally address people by their first names, so John Jones would be addressed as Mr John, for example.

Dining

Muslims do not drink alcohol, and the accessibility of alcohol will differ depending on whether you’re in the UAE, Qatar or elsewhere in the GCC. If alcohol isn’t offered then it is respectful to not ask for it. Other dining tips include not ordering pork, eating with your right hand only and if you’re hosting dinner it’s expected that you tip 10 per cent on top of the service charge.

Business Meetings and Negotiations

Building relationships is key during business meetings, so it is likely that meetings will run longer than scheduled. A foreigner must always be on time, even if their GCC counterpart is not, and it’s important to not speak openly about religion and politics during a business meeting. It’s also important to remain patient and not rush meetings if you want to build strong relationships and strengthen business ties.

It’s vital to not reference the legalities of a contract in business meetings in the GCC. If there is an issue with any of the contracts, it is best to discuss these without referencing any legal clauses.

While it may seem like there are a lot of things to remember, most of this culture is reflective of the Islamic religion and keeping this in mind can really improve your business and personal relationships. The more business meetings you have, the quicker these things will come to you, so make sure you relax and keep an open mind during your first few business meetings in the GCC. Of course, if you need any help getting the basics down before moving to the UAE or Qatar, please feel free to contact a member of our local team.

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