Working in Nigeria?
Business Etiquette in Nigeria
Nigeria is a very different place to home for most expats who start working here. While there are many different rules of conduct among the diverse cultures of the nation, business etiquette tends to be the same wherever you might go in Nigeria. Your keys to success are adaptability, flexibility, and some background cultural knowledge. We have compiled some useful info below; keep it in mind to make your first impression a good one!
Establishing a personal relationship with your colleagues and superiors is common in Nigeria. You can expect the first two hours to be spent getting to know each other. Family and health matters are very important in Nigeria, and they will inevitably be brought up.
Please don’t try to rush through this process or impose your own agenda at these initial meetings. For things to go smoothly afterwards, it is important to be pleasant and agreeable. In private meetings, don’t be shocked if they are interrupted by calls, emails, or knocks at the door; Nigerians do a lot of work in teams and managers constantly manage them.
The matter of addressing people might be hard to get used to for expats from “first-name office cultures”. You should always wait until you are invited to use someone’s first name. Until then, Nigerians prefer the use of Mr./Mrs./Ms. and surname.
Titles are of utmost importance, too. Many Nigerians will insist on being addressed with full titles at all times. Some occupations are used as titles as well, such as “engineer”, for example.
Greeting processes are very important in Nigeria, and it is rare to just greet someone in passing. Take time to exchange pleasantries and ask about each other’s well-being. To shake someone’s hand is common; if you are a man greeting a woman, wait for her to extend her hand first.
Try to greet each person in a group individually, in order of seniority. This is a common sign of respect, which can also be applied to superiors. It is also appropriate to bow your head when shaking the hand of someone much obviously older than you.
When speaking to superiors and seniors, try to avoid eye contact. In general, Nigerians make much less use of eye contact than members of Western cultures. Insisting on looking others in the eye during a conversation might easily be taken as a sign of rudeness or even aggression.
There is no exact way or time to exchange business cards, but you should always endeavor to receiver another’s with either both or your right hand – never with the left. Always take a moment to examine the business card before putting it away in a business card holder. Don’t ever write on your business cards; if your details have changed, have new cards printed. You should be sure to include any academic and professional titles on your business cards.
Generally, Nigerians live and work at a more relaxed pace than you might be used to. Punctuality is valued, but sticking to schedules is less important than an individual’s particular situation. Also, due to the erratic traffic conditions, being on time can be quite hard.
Patience is a virtue you will sorely need when doing business in Nigeria. It is often wise to schedule important meetings well ahead and to call in the day before to confirm.
Miscellaneous Etiquette Tips
Please remember that there are a number of different ethnicities, cultures, and religions living side by side in Nigeria. Make sure to ask co-workers about their background in order not to offend anybody by accident.
A useful piece of information for upbeat people: the “thumbs up” sign, which in Western societies usually denotes that everything is all right, can be very offensive in Nigeria!
The Nigerian concept of personal space is almost nonexistent. It is quite normal for people to stand close to you when talking or standing in line. While this may seem unpleasant to some, please be tolerant and do not tell people to back off.
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