International Business Etiquette: My Trip to the Middle East
International Business Etiquette Speaker
There is a direct flight from Philadelphia to Doha on Qatar Airlines and I was a passenger on it. My final destination was Bahrain, a country in the Arabian Gulf. The Kingdom of Bahrain hosted me as a guest speaker for a day long engagement on International Business Etiquette and Protocol. Yes, the flight was a long one, 13 hours, but the crew was so impressive, professional and poised which made the flight more bearable.
So much is written about cultural differences, but what about our similarities? This was so apparent to me as I landed and immediately became involved in the ordinary details for setting up for an event on this scale. We discussed the room set-up, worked with the catering department to determine the table settings and menu items. Attention to detail was the main concern, as the planning manager’s goal was to provide an exceptional experience for the attendees, or delegates, as they were called in Bahrain. Immediately, I observed and experienced a high level of respect and gracious hospitality.
Of course, there are differences and as a speaker, I found my audience ready and curious to discuss how to conduct business in the US and the UK. First, we started with a discussion around the science of etiquette and its importance in business, especially when international partners are involved.
Understanding cultural differences and similarities prevents misunderstandings in our global society. Whether your plans have you staying stateside or preparing for an international meeting, chances are you deal with someone from a different culture. If you are hosting a meeting and inviting those from another country, it is your responsibility to find out about their culture. When you are the one traveling the distance for a meeting to another country, it is also your responsibility to find out the other person’s preferences and priorities.
International Business Etiquette Tips
To help guide you, here are a few international business etiquette tips, on what to consider when traveling and conducting meetings internationally, specifically in the Middle East:
- Scheduling and Agendas: Agendas are the norm when planning a meeting, but some cultures strictly adhere to them. It was the custom in Bahrain to strictly follow the agenda and powerpoint slides. In the US we have a tendency to be flexible with our agendas. We try to cover all the points but we may stray at times.
- Handshakes: A woman in the Middle East may not shake hands with a man. If you are a man and you initiate this gesture and suddenly realize your mistake, hold your hand over your heart and nod. You may find the woman will do the same to let you know she does not practice this custom.
- Left Hand: American and Europeans use both hands to hold forks and knives.In the Middle East, only the right hand is used. Also, when handing off an item whether or not it is food related, use only your right hand, never the left.
Whether you are working in London, Singapore or Dubai, remember we are all part of a global society. Consider your cultural responsibility when you are invited to a meeting, sending an email, participating in a videoconference, or by phone. Your success depends on your ability to navigate the international landscape.
Why not capitalize on your strength and increase the awareness of cultural diversity?
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