Bahrain at a Glance
Business Etiquette in Bahrain
Although Bahrain once had the reputation of being the most liberal of the GCC states, accusations of human rights violations since the beginning of the protest movement in 2011 have put this in question. Nonetheless, for expats, Bahrain remains one of the most liberal states in the region. But please remember that the country is an Islamic state with a society deeply rooted in local traditions and customs. The style of conducting business in Bahrain therefore differs widely from that in Western Europe or the USA. A basic understanding of Bahraini culture can earn you respect and give you the edge over your competitors.
Business Meetings in Bahrain
Arab culture is known for its hospitality, and Bahrainis are no exception. This may have some bearings on your business meetings in Bahrain, as your host or business partner will probably observe traditional customs during your meeting, at least to a certain degree.
One of these traditions is the open-door policy: Don’t be surprised if your meeting is interrupted by the arrival of another guest. Your host is unlikely to turn anyone away, as this would be considered very rude. The initial greeting may be followed by a period of silence while you wait for tea or coffee to be served. Don’t refuse refreshments that are offered to you. The meeting starts once everyone’s cups have been filled – but rush in head first.
Every business meeting is preceded by small talk, which happens either before, during or after refreshments. This serves to build trust and relationships – a vital aspect of business in Bahrain. You may be asked personal questions about your life and your family and are expected to show an interest in your host’s personal life, too. However, never ask any direct questions about female family members unless you know them very well, as this may cause embarrassment to your host.
Doing Business in Bahrain
It is unusual for any decisions to be made or contracts to be signed at a first meeting. In fact, be prepared for a much slower style of business than what you may be used to. As mentioned above, winning the trust of your Arab business partners is an important first step if you want to achieve something. People don’t do business with strangers in Bahrain, so invest some time in building up a good reputation for yourself.
Similarly, your business partners will expect you to trust them, so being too pushy will come across as impolite. You should try taking people’s words as serious as you would a written agreement.
Business Communication in Bahrain
The style of communication may be something to get used to as well. It is not very direct and you will have to learn to interpret vague statements. This is due to the reluctance in Arab culture to be either the bearer of bad news or to simply refuse anybody anything. You are unlikely to ever receive a straight no in answer to your requests, and it’s a good idea to ban the word “no” from your vocabulary during business negotiations. A lack of commitment or very evasive language usually serves as sufficient indication of a negative answer.
Communication in Bahrain may be more formal than in your home country. It is important to use someone’s full name including title when you greet them. The most senior person should always be greeted first. This reflects a structure of society which is still very hierarchical and based on traditional family values.
Bahrain: Women in Business
Women are much better placed in the Bahraini business world and in society in general than in many other Arab countries. While female employment was traditionally limited to educational and medical professions, local women increasingly work in banking, finance and other service industries too. Expat women can be found in all sorts of professions – medical, legal, education, PR, and the hotel industry.
As a foreign woman working in Bahrain, you should nevertheless observe certain rules. First of all, dress conservatively, if only out of respect towards your host culture. Men and women often do not mingle in their free time – meals and entertainment are enjoyed separately. Try to keep a certain distance to your male colleagues, as being too friendly may be misinterpreted. There should be no physical contact between you and Bahraini men, not even during the greeting process.
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