Analysis

The Dos and Don’ts of Working in Saudi Arabia

Along side the second of our three-part Market Explorer special on Saudi Arabia, industry expert and author of  Construction 3.0 Strategies, Ted Garrison, gives his tips on working in the Kingdom In a recent NCS Radio interview with Professor Saleh Mubarek, the chairman of the civil engineering department at Qatar University, I asked, “What advice […]

Along side the second of our three-part Market Explorer special on Saudi Arabia, industry expert and author of  Construction 3.0 Strategies, Ted Garrison, gives his tips on working in the Kingdom

In a recent NCS Radio interview with Professor Saleh Mubarek, the chairman of the civil engineering department at Qatar University, I asked, “What advice would you offer a company that wants to work in the Middle East for the first time?”

He responded that they should partner with a local company that understands how business is done. This would allow them to learn local customs while avoiding embarrassing situations.

During my career, I moved from one state to another in the United States. A superintendent who moved around with
me observed an action he didn’t like and told the worker, “That’s now how we do it in Texas.” The worker smiled and answered defiantly, “Maybe but this isn’t Texas.”

It seems to be universal that people resist outsiders’ telling them they are wrong. There is nothing wrong with offering new methods and ideas, but first you need to understand why the local practice is used. There may be a good reason.
One colleague advised that trust and integrity are important when doing business in Saudi Arabia.

It’s important to be honest, clear and straightforward if you want to be respected and earn people’s trust. This may seem obvious to many, but quite a few people conduct business in a non-transparent manner.

Unfortunately this doesn’t contribute to a good working relationship in Saudi Arabia.

Related to trust is the fact that the culture is built around networking and relations. Saudi businessmen expect to have face time with those they will be dealing with because they want to get to know the people. Therefore, if you aren’t prepared to put the necessary effort in to get to know the people you will be working with, you will struggle.

The dos and don’ts start with common sense, namely treat people with courtesy and respect. When you’re a guest in someone’s home or country, it just not polite to criticize or complain about the way they do things.

If you can’t accept the culture or lifestyle, then you shouldn’t go. When you visit anyone, you should adapt to them, not expect them to adapt to you. By following that simple advice, I can report that on my trips to the kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the people I encountered were friendly, courteous and helpful.

The religious culture of the country puts a prohibition on alcohol and drugs. The restrictions on women’s actions, such as dress, the right to drive and their interaction with men outside their families are generally well known, but it’s best to review these issues if you are visiting for the first time.

Men must recognize it is a very conservative culture and avoid wearing shorts cut above the knee in public. However, beyond these generally known issues, I’ve provided a few additional recommendations from my connections
living in Saudi Arabia. Contacts offered all kinds of additional suggestions ranging from live close to work
because of traffic to make sure you know who you are going to work for before you get there.

However, in this limited space, I can’t list all of the suggestions. But one colleague suggested you get a copy of the book Don’t They Know It’s Friday? He said it’s great and offers a wonderful perspective on business protocol and Saudi Arabian culture.

Ted Garrison is a construction expert who writes, speaks and consults on the future of the construction industry. He is also the host of the Internet radio program New Construction Strategies. He can be reached at Ted@tedgarrison.
com and followed on Twitter @TedGarrison.

 

Top Tips on Saudi Arabian Business Culture by World Business Culture

No business deal will ever be discussed without reference to the Almighty and His Prophet Mohammed. The utmost respect must be given to such devoutly held religious beliefs and accommodations made to allow people to observe
religious rituals of prayer and fasting.

It is often found that strong hierarchies develop in organisations, with elder male relatives at the head.

When setting a new commercial unit in Saudi Arabia, try and show the government not just how you would benefit from the project but also how your project can provide social welfare benefits to the people of the country.

Try to find out the relationship tree of any company you wish to do business with. Power may not reside with a functional head if that head is not a family member or has poor relationships at the top.

Use your contacts at the influential and powerful places such as the Embassy of Saudi Arabia, the chief Saudi Arabian Chamber of Commerce and any other important business organisations.

Saudis do not like to say no or deliver negative news and it can be difficult to fully understand exactly how interested people are in your propositions.

Loud and aggressive discourse denotes engagement and interest – not anger or hostility.

Do not be frightened or worried if the noise levels in meetings start to grow; also, levels of eye contact are very strong and strong eye contact denotes sincerity and trustworthiness.

Avoid touching anybody with your left hand or pointing feet at people as both of these are seen as extremely rude behaviour.

Do not comment on the political situation in the Middle East or make any adverse comments about the influence of Islam.

 

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