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Middle East & North Africa (MENA)

Trust Building & Culture for Western Professionals in the Middle East


As your organization begins forming new relationships with Middle Eastern people it will be important to consider their culture in order to maximize productive business relationships. The same principles which have guided all your successful business relationships apply but must be looked at within the lens of what is appropriate or expected within the local culture.
Trust Building & Culture for Western Professionals in the Middle East

by Christen Behzadi

10 months ago


One important matter is ,of course, the building of trust. Trust is key to all relationships, business or otherwise. Establishing trust with someone who is completely foreign to you can be difficult. In the case of building trust with Middle Eastern counterparts there is an additional layer of potential difficulty. With the geopolitical environment surrounding the region over the last several decades hidden biases towards Middle Eastern people in members of your organization can make establishing trust extremely difficult. No one will admit this outright and your only indicator may be stalled deals and unproductive teams. Without cultural training of your organizational teams at all levels you are risking leaving even your top talent without the skills necessary to connect meaningfully with their counterparts and translate your investment in the Middle East marketplace into a worthwhile return for the company.

The benefit of doing business within the Middle East and expanding your enterprise into the regional marketplace is the opportunity to work with the wonderful people. The challenge for your organization will be the widespread perceptions of Islam, the Middle East region and their political leaders and forming productive working relationships on behalf of the organization. It is also culturally challenging that culturally most people tend to behave in two distinct ways; a polite public persona and a private persona you will never see- meaning everything is not always exactly as it seems. You may find that you have employees who struggle to be as productive as you know they are capable of on their cross cultural teams. This may be because they don’t understand how to interpret the culture- a skill that is developed through training. 

Some consider matters of culture and the ways in which we work with others to be “soft skills.” Soft skills are defined as attributes which allow people to work harmoniously together. Which is, as we know, key to forming such vital business concepts such as Napoleon Hill’s Mastermind alliance. There is nothing soft about being able to work harmoniously with your fellow coworkers on behalf of the company. Indeed skilled HR and business executives know the value in creating harmonious productive environments on the corporate bottom line and the true cost of unproductive teams in company time and resources.

Your teams must begin to understand the regional culture if you are looking for real returns from your expansion into the marketplace. The goodwill and appreciation generated because company employees come equipped with real knowledge of the people, a positive mental attitude and effective cultural strategies which will allow them to build trusting productive relationships on behalf of the company will translate onto your bottom line. Traveling throughout the Islamic world in the Middle East and Africa will likely be a pleasant surprise for many western professionals. Where once might expect contempt for westerners you will likely find warm friendly locals eager to get to know you and welcome you into their homes. As an American woman myself who married into Middle Eastern culture I can attest to the delight of my first travels into the Middle East and getting to know the less publicized side of the culture.



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