Sensitivity to other cultures is important, never more so than when doing business. This month, I find myself back in the UAE for extended period of time in a series of client meetings. While I have read up on "acceptable" behavior for this region, knwoing when and how to apply it is the key.
A few observations:
(1) Doing business as a woman can present some unique challenges, i.e. not extending my hand to an Emirati mail for a handshake unless he offers his hand ot me first. For those men with long beards, this signifies a more conservative belief system, and as such, I should not use direct eye contact.
(2) Please refer to all clients as "Mr." or "Mrs." for the first few meetings until you have established the basis of an ongoing relationship or they invite you to refer to them by their first name.
(3) Respect hospitality.
(4) Recognise that honour or saving face is exceptionally important in any negotiation or business transaction. Be prepared to be indirect when saying no or declining an offer.
(5) Behave with sensitivity where alcohol is concerned.
(6) Steer clear of food products that are pork.
(7) Negotiations may take a long time and require several visits. This is partly to build trust, and partly because decisions may be made elsewhere. Decisions are made at the top, by consensus, often with the help of various committees. Once plan is made, expect swift action.
(8) Spoken word or verbal communication is more important than written communication. You get better results and quicker responses by meeting people or calling them rather than emailing them.
(9) Most meetings in the Arab world are "circular" rather than "linear". This means that your Emirati counterpart will in most cases not stick to a fixed agenda in terms of order, re-visit points when you thought you had cleared them, and regularly raise personal issues, comments or observations in the middle of a business discussion.