United Arab Emirates

The United Arab Emirates consists of seven smaller “emirates” similar to states: Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Sharjah, Ajman, Fujairah, Ras al Khaimah and Umm al Qaiwain.  80% of the population is made up of foreign workers, so it is likely that if you work in the UAE you will encounter many different cultures.

Emirati Worldview

Group Orientation
Identity defined by group, family

Harmony within group very important

Relationship Focused
Personal interaction takes precedence over strict schedules; quality of life is important

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

Fluid Time
Time is intangible with little structure

Everyone believes in God and realizes that things depend on God

Cultural Note:
It is likely that expatriates will have very limited opportunities to interact with Emiratis, who make up approximately 20% of the population.  The UAE relies on expatriates from many countries to provide labor and services.

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 (“En-Sha-Allah”)

Emirati Communication Style

Imply/suggest what is meant.  You need to read between the lines

High Context    
Personal interactions depend on the nature of the relationship

Sensitivity to hierarchy/face saving very important

Emotional displays are common and expected

Message may weave and wander


Guidelines for Communicating with Emiratis

  • Understand that a good personal relationship is the most important single factor in doing business successfully with Arabs.  Arabs will usually begin meetings inquiring about each other’s health and personal activities.
  • Accept that verbal brevity 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 Arabs, but you have to step up the volume as well.  Loudness of voice, rising pitch and tone, even shouting, all denote sincerity in Arab discourse.  In Arab society it is quite normal to use speech in a rhetorical, almost aggressive manner to make a point clearly.
  • Recognize that Arabs place great value on hospitality.  If you have drinks, food or snacks in the office, you should offer to share it with your Arab colleagues.
  • Learn that an Arab 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, Arab employees will feel that criticism of their work is a personal insult.   Always avoid criticizing an Arab colleague in front of others.
  • Accept that Arabs 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 Arabs are very relaxed about the timing of events.  While appointments are necessary, you might arrive to find several other business people present and several meetings occurring simultaneously.
  • Recognize that Arabs love to use flattery and profession of friendship; therefore you should not hesitate to praise their country, their arts, their dress and food.
  • Understand that Arabs are used to dealing with foreigners and readily forgive them for not behaving like Arabs.  The most important thing is to avoid saying or doing anything that they consider insulting or derogatory.  This includes the use of alcohol, improper dress, and over-familiarity with the few women they allow you to meet, and challenging the basic concepts of Islam.
  • Arabs bring Allah into their arguments in almost every conversation.  Arabs do not like discussing unpleasant matters such as illness, misfortune, accidents or death.  They are even reluctant to tell you bad news about business, so bear this in mind when everything looks rosy.
  • Recognize that Muslims pray five times a day:  at dawn (4:30-5:00 a.m.), around noon, in the afternoon 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.

Emirati Business Patterns

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

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 sincerity, after shaking hands, place the right hand to the heart or chest.  Failure to shake hands when meeting someone or saying goodbye is considered rude. When a Western man is introduced to an Arab woman, it is the woman’s choice whether to shake hands or not; she should be allowed to make the first move. Do not shake hands firmly or pump your whole hand up-and-down.  Also, realize that people 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, animated and joking conversations, and casual invitations to lunch can be easily misinterpreted.  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
APPRAISING PERFORMANCE Informal, irregular, very personal, paternalistic
PERFORMANCE EXPECTATIONS Focus on group harmony & shared accomplishment; qualitative and subjective; includes social & economic concerns
NEGOTIATING, PERSUADING Argumentative, can appear combative, face-to-face disagreement usual, often use third party
DECISION MAKING PROCESS Leader-centric, top-down, subordinates expect clear goals and information
PARTICIPATION IN MEETINGS Create harmonious setting, leader-centric, indirect, information-giving
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