A guide to networking in the Middle East

A guide to networking in the Middle East

With a flourishing business landscape aided by relaxed regulations, infrastructure investments and government incentives, the Middle East is an increasingly appealing place to do business, which is why trade shows like IBTM Arabia, which is taking place this month in Abu Dhabi from 25-27 March, are increasingly popular.

Trade shows are in demand because they’re an excellent opportunity to make new contacts and connections. Indeed, it’s an objective of all our shows to create opportunities for people to meet and get to know each other. There are several networking events you can attend at IBTM Arabia, so here’s our guide on how to succeed and make the most of them.

Make friends, not acquaintances – Middle Eastern business culture is all about friendship. It’s a great idea to go networking, because face-to-face communication is preferred – and it must be a genuine and heartfelt attempt to build strong and trusting personal relationships, or in other words, friendships. Like many other countries, word of mouth recommendation is a very important aspect of doing business here, so make a good impression by referring people you have met (if you are confident in the products or services they offer), and don’t forget to stay in touch with all your new contacts afterwards.

If it seems insincere, it’s probably very sincere – you may find that the Arabs you network with are overly friendly and welcoming. To a Westerner, this can seem like an insincere attempt to lure you into a false sense of security, but in the Middle East, this approach is perfectly normal and a good sign – it’s designed to put you at ease and demonstrate they are genuinely interested in your friendship. Go with it.

Get to know the area and understand the local culture – As is the case when doing business in any new region, it’s important to understand the local culture and show it. You will not be able to conduct business if you don’t. Get out and about, try a few restaurants and activities, find out about the region, show interest in the well-being of local populations – be ready to talk about something local (not politics) and always be positive about them.

Your right hand is the correct hand – you should avoid passing anything – pens, documents, food, with your left hand and touching people with your left hand is unadvisable too. The left hand is used for personal hygiene and is therefore considered dirty. Stick to using the right hand and you can’t go wrong.

Personal space is small – you may find your Middle Eastern networking companion invades what you consider to be personal space – he or she is a close-talker. Don’t be alarmed and try not to be stand-offish. This is perfectly normal here, it’s simply a case of cultural difference and easy to get used to.

Small talk is big – you might well be expected to engage in personal small talk before the true purpose of your business interests is ever mentioned. You’ll be fielding the normal sort of questions about your journey, your family, your health and your views of the country you are in (keep it positive). Be prepared to ask similar questions back and tell a few amusing stories, just be sure to stay clear of politics and, while it’s fine to ask about children, avoid asking specifically after female members of the family, as this can sometimes cause offence.

Speak a little local lingo – no one will expect you to be anywhere close to fluent, however, learning a few simple Arabic words or phrases will be greatly appreciated. People in the Middle East are not used to visitors making the effort to talk their language, so speaking a few local words in Arabic is an effective way to demonstrate your commitment to long-term friendship. It’s also a good ice-breaker and talking point.

Relax and enjoy yourself – Middle Easterners are great company, they are warm and affectionate – their welcome is huge – and if you are polite and show you are making an effort to be respectful, they will overlook any minor faux pas you may make during your networking conversation. Go with an open mind, good intentions and ready to make new friends and your time in the Middle East with be fun filled and productive.

IBTM Arabia 2019 will take place at Jumeirah Etihad Towers from 25-27 March and will bring together exhibitors from Egypt, Turkey, Russia, central Asia, Georgia, Armenia and Cyprus, as well as the UAE and GCC, for three days of mutually-matched meetings, exciting cultural activities, networking events and inspiring educational sessions. Learn more here.

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