Cross Cultural Business Experience in Middle East

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Almost everyone in business these days is working in some type of multi-cultural environment - at the office or with customers & colleagues around the world. Dealing in a multi-cultural environment requires proper understanding of basic etiquette at work, communication processes and behavioral aspects.

All communication is cultural. It draws on ways we have learned to speak and give nonverbal messages. We do not always communicate the same way from day to day, since factors like context, individual personality, and mood interact with the variety of cultural influences we have internalized that influence our choices.

The challenge is that even with all the good will in the world, miscommunication is likely to happen, especially when there are significant cultural differences between communicators. Miscommunication may lead to conflict, or aggravate conflict that already exists. The cost to a company when communications breakdown is difficult to calculate but the cost of preparation for understanding new culture is minor by comparison.

To enhance an organization, its members must be able to apply understanding of the other culture in their assignments, and be able to observe and make the appropriate behavioral adjustments when cross cultural issues become important to their productivity or the effectiveness of the organization as a whole.

The following is a transcript of interview of Mr. Nityanand who has worked in Middle East Asia for over a year. In this interview he reveals interesting insights of work environment of a Multi-National Company working from Kuwait.


Question 1: What according to you is the most significant difference in work environment between India and Kuwait?

The significant difference was the lack of trust between the management and engineers and workers. I was an engineer in a production site. I wanted to come back to India finally to pursue my career goals but I was afraid to let it known to the management lest they should put brakes on my plans.

Lack of trust is very prevalent attitude at work place and living space. You can't be very open with your plans because you never know who is going to veto them. As migrants, we always had to be on our guard.

Question 2: How was the relationship between you and the management?

Cordial. This may sound contradictory to what I said earlier but the fact is that as long as both parties do not have any issues, the relationship stays cordial.

I have enjoyed my work at Kuwait more than I enjoyed it in India because I was paid three times more for one third of the work that I did in India and in addition to it I could spend valuable time with my family.

Question 3: What kind of management practice was in force - participatory or delegatory?

Delegatory. I guess it is more to do with their culture and also of the fact that they knew very little about engineering and technical processes. As they were in no position to guide us, much of the job was delegated to us directly. They would only want to know the final result.

Question 4: Can you throw some light on how knowledge sharing was different in the new work environment?

Since the Arab management never understood technicalities of issues we only used to communicate things in the simplest or layman language. The workforce consisted of people of other nationalities too. The migrants were usually the skilled lot but lowly paid. Knowledge sharing among them was on a need-to-know basis.

Question 5: How is displeasure communicated in Arab world? Do people confront directly or through third party?

Displeasure is usually sugar coated and communicated in a round about manner through a third party. Mostly it will be your peer or someone connected to you.

Question 6: How do you say a ‘No'?

You can never say a direct ‘no' to your boss if he is an Arab. You have to sugar coat the message and say it. With the subordinates though, you can be...
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