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May 27, 2008

Cross-cultural session offers guide to building Middle Eastern business relationships

This year's IMEX cross-cultural seminar, which took place at the global meetings and event conference yesterday in Frankfurt, Germany, invited participants to understand some of the vital factors and skills required for successfully conducting business with Middle Eastern partners.

Speaking from personal experience and also using a proven educational model, Harold Formstone, sales director of IMEX cross-cultural partners, Richard Lewis Communications, detailed some of the cultural, linguistic and behavioural differences to look out for between western and Arab cultures.

"The golden rules for success in working with people from Arab countries are many and varied, but, once you understand and implement them, you will find that communication flows much more smoothly,” he explained. “If you are western, you must let others talk at length and be prepared to reply freely. You can also afford to be more emotional in your interactions – and more personal – as this is expected in Arab cultures. Interrupt when you like and be prepared to think aloud. All of these traits will be warmly welcomed and understood."

Formstone described how Richard Lewis Communications has formulated three model types: Linear Actives; Multi-Actives and Reactives. Each has different facets to it, with linear active types likely to be more process oriented, more prescriptive and reassured by sticking to an agreed meeting agenda. Multi-actives, such as those from various Arab countries, tend towards more social behaviour and even volatility at times.

"Arab people are comfortable approaching a meeting in a much more random fashion, with all-embracing discussions that can appear circular to other cultures,” Formstone continued. “In these meetings, you may be overwhelmed by the number of new ideas being suggested, and delegates will also find that concepts such as personal space are distinctly different from Western expectations. Eye contact, body language, speech volume and speed will all be markedly more exaggerated than Westerners might be used too. It is also common for business relationships in the Middle East to spill over extensively into your personal life, with colleagues dropping in at your house at any time of the day and over the weekend.”

Formstone went on to describe how cross-cultural skills can help meetings planners to avoid delays and misunderstandings in many areas of their work. The audience offered their own ideas and stories about cultural differences at work. All agreed that the meetings industry is extremely global in its outlook and diversity and that cultural understanding is critical to business success in the 21st century.

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