Traditional Arab Worldview

Group Orientation
Identity defined by group, family

Harmony within group very important. Concerns or conflicts often dismissed to preserve harmony.

Relationship Focused
Personal interaction takes precedence over strict schedules; quality of life is important. Heated discussion mayshow investment in the relationship.

Patterns of rank and status observed.

Need for Certainty
Rules for appropriate behavior are known and should not be broken.

Requires reference to context.  Relationships are given priority. Not all rules apply to all individuals all of the time.

Fluid Time
Time is intangible with little structure.

Everyone believes in God and realizes that things depend on God.

Cultural Note:

  • Kuwait is more religious and conservative than most of the other Gulf Arab states. As in Saudi Arabia, many Kuwaitis practice Wahhabism, a conservative form of Sunni Islam. However interpretation and enforcement are not as severe as in Saudi Arabia.
  • Kuwait is roughly 65% Sunni (including Wahhabists) and 35% Shia.
  • The country tends to be the most pro-American in the Gulf Arab world since there is still a feeling of gratitude for the support during the first Gulf War.

Cultural Assumptions

  • Family honor is of great importance
  • The sense of family is wide and extended
  • Building strong personal relationships is critical
  • Reciprocation and hospitality
  • Hierarchy and respect for elders
  • Group stability and harmony
  • Understanding that humans do not control events. That is up to God’s will

Traditional Arab Communication Styles

Imply/suggest what is meant.  You need to read between the lines. Emotional outbursts and raised voices may feeldirect, but finding the “real” message in the words may still be achallenge.

High Context    
Background information assumed depending on nature of relationship. Social class determines the type of language and approach used to communicate.

Sensitivity to hierarchy/face saving very important. First names are not used unless one invites the other to do so.

Emotional displays are common and expected.

Message may weave and wander.


Guidelines for Communication with Arabs

  • A good personal relationship is the most important single factor in doing business successfully with Kuwaitis. They will usually begin meetings inquiring about each other’s health and personal activi-ties.
  • Accept that verbal modesty will be highly disconcerting to them. If you are quiet, they will simply think something is wrong. Not only do you have to speak more when you are with Kuwaitis, but you have to step up the volume as well. Loudness of voice, rising pitch and tone, even shouting, all denote sincerity in Kuwaiti discourse. In Kuwaiti society it is quite normal to use speech in a rhetor-ical, almost aggressive manner to make a point emphatically. It may take a long time to make a point that a direct communicator would do in far fewer words.
  • Recognize that Kuwaitis place great value on hospitality. If you have drinks, food or snacks in the office, you should offer to share it with your Kuwaiti colleagues.
  • Learn that an Kuwaiti is not likely to criticize your efforts openly. He is more likely to hint that changes are needed or respond with inaction. If phrased too bluntly, Kuwaiti employees will feel that criticism of their work is a personal insult. Always avoid criticizing an Kuwaiti colleague in front of others.
  • Accept that Kuwaitis implicitly mistrust people who are attempting to hurry or pressure them into a particular deal. They will evaluate the source of a proposal as much as the content. If you press for a specific time by which you want a decision, you may actually harm your chances for success.
    Be aware that Kuwaitis are very relaxed about the timing of events. While appointments are neces-sary, you might arrive to find several other business people present and several meetings occurring simultaneously.
  • Recognize that Kuwaitis love to use flattery and profession of friendship; therefore you should not hesitate to praise their country, their arts, their dress and food.
  • Kuwaitis are used to dealing with foreigners and readily forgive them for not behaving like Kuwaitis. However, certain behaviors can cause offense including: the use of alcohol, improper dress, over-familiarity with women, and challenging the basic concepts of Islam.
  • Kuwaitis bring Allah into their arguments in almost every conversation (In’Sha’Allah—God willing).
    Most Kuwaitis are reluctant to bring up bad news about their lives or in business. It may take longer to find out that problems exist.
  • Recognize that Muslims pray five times a day: at dawn (4:30-5:00 a.m.), around noon, in the after-noon between 2:00 and 4:00, at sunset, and one hour after sunset (never later than 9:00 p.m.). At prayer time everything stops. Plan your schedule around prayer times.

Arab Business Patterns

  • Business meetings last longer than time set
  • Not all agenda topics covered
  • Deviation from agenda
  • Interruptions are common and acceptable

*Note: Maneuver your chair so that you are sitting right next to the man you wish to do business with.  You have to be no more than a foot away and nearer to him than anybody else.

Understand that Arabs openly discuss:

  • Money
  • Religion
  • Politics
  • Family

Non-Verbal Dynamics

Arabs, in general, make liberal use of gestures, especially if they are enthusiastic about what they are saying. Men use gestures more than women. To greet with respect or sinceri-ty, after shaking hands, place the right hand to the heart or chest. Failure to shake hands when meeting someone or say-ing goodbye is considered rude. When a Western man is in-troduced to an Arab woman, it is the woman’s choice wheth-er to shake hands or not; she should be allowed to make the first move. Similarly, a non-Arab woman should extend her hand to initiate a handshake. Do not shake hands firmly or pump your whole hand up-and-down. Also, realize that peo-ple shake hands and hold hands longer in greeting than in the West; allow your counterpart to withdraw first.

Arabs will interpret your behavior negatively if you behave with too much familiarity toward a person of the opposite sex. Behaviors such as overly enthusiastic greetings, animat-ed and joking conversations, and casual invitations to lunch can be easily misinterpreted by them. The public display of intimacy between men and women is strictly forbidden by the Arab social code, including holding hands or linking arms or any gesture of affection such as kissing or prolonged touching.

Arabs of the same gender will typically stand very close to you when in a conversation.  If you try to keep a greater distance, they may think you find their physical presence distasteful or that you are a particularly cold individual.   When standing in conversation with someone, leaning against the wall or keeping hands in pockets is taken as a lack of respect

Business Practices

PROBLEM SOLVING Leader's vision, insight or intuition, less methodical, scientific. Linked with saving face so as not to cause embarrassment
MOTIVATING PEOPLE Pay, status, titles, job security, leadership of others, concern for conformity, loyalty
PERFORMANCE EXPECTATIONS Focus on group harmony & shared accomplishment; qualitative and subjective; includes social & economic concerns
APPRAISING PERFORMANCE Informal, irregular, very personal, paternalistic
NEGOTIATING, PERSUADING Argumentative, can appear combative, face-to-face disagreement usual, often use third party. May feel confrontational but care is taken not to insult one another, only to show passion for the topic. Negotiations cannot be rushed.
DECISION MAKING PROCESS Leader-centric, top-down, subordinates expect clear goals and information
PARTICIPATION IN MEETINGS Create harmonious setting, leader-centric, indirect, information-giving. Heated discussion may occur, but words of appreciation for one another at the end of the meeting restores harmony and face when all accept the exchange was out of commitment to the work.
Hierarchical, paternalistic, nurturing leader, subordinate gives loyalty and conformity
HIRING Performance/results balanced by background relations and obligations, paternalistic
CUSTOMER RELATIONS Based on network, personal relationships, obligations