The most important thing to remember while doing business in Bahrain is that Bahraini businessmen value relationships. So it is important to have a local business partner in Bahrain, before expanding your business to that country. Your local business partner would be more knowledgeable about whom to approach or ask for a favor.
This is important because business in Bahrain is all about favors given and received, and number of contacts gains, relationships made. Only with the help of a local Bahraini business partner, you will be able to negotiate the complex maze of doing business in Bahrain.
But you must do business here, because Bahrain is one of the richest countries in the world and there is a lot of potential profit to be made by expanding your business to Bahrain. There are things about the Bahraini business culture you should know about first.
Bahraini business is very much hierarchical and male dominated, just as Bahraini society in general. It is important to show deference to the higher members in the hierarchy in an organization and address them as “Sheikh”, which indicates the superiority of their position.
It takes a lot of time for a Bahraini organization to come to a decision about a proposed deal, and you should be prepared well for this. Never show impatience, and never be restless, because this is seen as a major negative. The Bahraini business community is tiny, so word about an overly aggressive, dominating, “loud” foreign businessman spreads really fast and it would then end your prospects of doing business here, which you wouldn’t want considering how much money can be made in Bahrain.
Bahrainis are very non-confrontational; they never challenge you in a business meeting even though they disagree vehemently with you. They are likely to only offer you flowery praise, and it is only much later, through an intermediary that you find out about their disagreements. If they don’t like you the first time they meet you, they will simply refuse to negotiate with you directly and use an intermediary instead if the deal is really too important for them to be called off.
Bahraini businessmen are quick to take offence, so you should be careful not to do things like glancing at your watch constantly, or pointing fingers at them, so crossing legs and so on. While you should make polite enquiries about their families – it should be more on the lines of how old their children are, and whether they are in school or college and so on. You should never ask them about their wives – that is considered scandalous!
Business meetings should be planned weeks in advance and business negotiations should be done face-to-face. Bahraini businessmen don’t attach much importance to meetings done over Skype. So it’s important to travel to Bahrain for the meeting. Also, you should never get straight to the point in a meeting, but discuss pleasantries and create a cordial atmosphere before moving on to the main agenda of the business meeting.
About dressing – It’s important to look sharp in Bahrain as Bahraini businessmen are likely to judge you on how you present yourself. Where conservative Western suits that offer an image of solidity and reliability. Western businesswomen should dress conservatively, but not too conservatively, as that might be seen as making a statement against Arab culture.
This article is a part of our ongoing series on “Doing Business in the Middle East and North Africa.” Our goal is to inform people about the right way to form a business partnership with local business partners in the region, and to offer a better understanding of the business culture and etiquette followed in that part of the world. The intention is to ensure that you are comfortable and know what to expect during a business negotiation with a business partner in the Middle East or North Africa. Please send us your suggestions on how we may help to serve you better. Ciao!