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How to Navigate Business Culture in the Middle East - Part 1

​“Time is money.” – Benjamin Franklin

In North America, business is fast paced. Everyone rushes to get things done and pack the most into each day. Productivity and efficiency are the ultimate goals.

What about attitude towards time in the Middle East?

Picture yourself at a government services office in Dubai. You ask the officer handling your case when your trade license will be ready for pick up. The officer tells you, “Tomorrow, inshallah.”

Does this really mean your licence will be ready tomorrow? Possibly, but it could take longer.

"Inshallah" is a common Arabic term that roughly translates to "God willing." It can imply uncertainty in a given situation and allow for some wiggle room, especially with regard to deadlines. "Inshallah" can also simply mean no, depending on the context.

The more flexible concept of time in the Middle East can be difficult for North Americans to accept. Here are just a few differences to anticipate:

  • Meetings tend to start later than scheduled. Expect at least one of the parties to be running late.

  • Negotiations are usually more drawn out. Be prepared for a lot of back and forth before striking a deal.

  • People and companies may not deliver on time. If you find a reliable partner or supplier, treat them like gold.

  • Delays are common. Rejoice if there aren’t any!

When doing business in the Middle East, the more quickly you embrace this relaxed attitude towards time, the less frustration and anxiety you’ll experience. You may even start to enjoy the slower pace.

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