The UAE – Cultural barriers

Be aware of cultural differences
Be aware of cultural differences

Matthew MacLachlan, head of intercultural & communication skills at communications firm Communicaid:

DON’T expect a one-to-one meeting to only include yourself and the other person. Often there will be other people present in the office or meeting room waiting their turn to meet with that person. When you arrive, it is polite to greet the person, take a seat and accept any coffee served until it is your turn.

DON’T assume that the person who asks the most questions in meetings holds the most responsibility. In the UAE, this person is considered to be the least respected or least important. The decision-maker is usually a silent observer and will only speak when discussions come to a close.

Don’t misunderstand Yes. In the UK it means that someone agrees with you. In the UAE because they don’t want to offend you it means ‘I’ve heard you and understand you but I need to go away and think about it!’

DON’T ask about someone’s wife or daughters. It is polite to enquire about a person’s family or health but never ask specifically about any female family members. Family life which involves females is kept extremely private.

DO address your Emirati counterparts with the appropriate titles followed by his or her first name. If unsure, it is best to get the names and correct form of address of those you will be doing business with beforehand.

DO dress conservatively. While the UAE is more westernised than many other Middle Eastern countries and therefore home to many Western style clothes, it is still important to dress modestly. As a sign of respect, men should wear a conservative suit and women should ensure their clothing covers their legs and the tops of their arms. Low cut tops should also be avoided.

DO accept an invitation to a meal or social event. Relationships are an integral part of doing business in the Emirates. Spending time with your Emirati counterparts is the best way to build trust and mutual understanding. But don’t touch any alcohol until you know your hosts attitude. Order a soft drink and follow your host’s lead. Also avoid eating with your left-hand.

DON’T schedule business meetings during prayer times or any of the major Islamic holidays such as Ramadan or Eid. These are extremely important periods for the majority of native Emiratis who are Muslims. Business is usually put on hold during these occasions as it is a time for reflection and celebration.