Doing Business in Kenya

Doing business in Kenya can be a very pleasant experience because of how polite and well mannered Kenyans are, but there are a few things to be kept in mind as a foreign business executive.

First, never go for a free and frank communication in Kenya, never make your point too bluntly or too honestly, particularly if your comments are in any way critical or damning. THE Kenyan society is very particular about “loss of face” – here being criticized by a foreigner in public can be the worst humiliation possible.

Yes, you should make your point, and make it clearly so, but not in public, only in a private conversion or through an intermediary. The bluntness of an American business executive, a style which has been incorporated in modern business won’t take you far in Kenya. Here, make your point softly, without causing any offence or display of impatience, anger or irritation.

The importance of diplomacy in a business relationship in Kenya cannot be emphasized enough by us. Diplomacy must be reflected in your conversation style – you must speak softly here, not loudly or forcefully.

Kenyans are too polite to say so themselves, but it is more than likely that foreign business executives who display a “loud” behavior will be criticized in the background and since the Kenyan business community is so small, word spreads pretty fast. Loud or brash foreign executives are avoided and they could as well wave their prospects of doing business in Kenya goodbye.

You should try to tricks Kenyans use to make their point – using metaphors, stories, presenting hypothetical situations and so on. By doing so, you make your point without causing much hurt or appearing demeaning or insulting.

Also, never display anger or impatience in a business meeting in Kenya, even though you feel you have every right to do so. Kenyans resent angry people because they are such a soft culture, and equate anger with mental instability. Emotional control is very important in Kenya and is one of the characteristic hallmarks of senior business executives in the country.

In fact, Kenyans go out of their way not to insult or hurt other people, they try their level best not to appear as being critical. That’s why it is only fair that you treat them just the same way and be as nice and polite to them as they are to you.

While greeting Kenyans, have a crisp but firm handshake. Kenyans don’t expect a long handshake if they hardly know you, but if you get to know someone well, it’s okay to have longer handshakes. While shaking hands with Kenyan female business executives, wait for them to make the first move rather than initiate the handshake yourself. Some Kenyan female executives would rather nod politely than offer a handshake.

Be deferential to those who are either senior in age or in position. Avoid direct eye contact while greeting senior executives in Kenya – that is seen as being impolite. There is no particular ritual about exchanging business cards here, but it is advisable to present your business card to the senior most executive first.

During business meetings, don’t get to the point directly. Exchange small talk about weather, sports and global politics, and only then, after a measure of comfort has been established, talk about business. It’s important for the host to know you, be comfortable with you, before he talks business with you.

Kenyan business community has a plenty of people of Indian origin, so it would help quite a lot of you are familiar with Indian culture as well. Kenyan business community is very traditional, very conservative, not given to displays of flashiness or aggression – this should be kept in mind always while doing business here.

This article is a part of our ongoing series on “Doing Business in Africa”. Our goal is to inform people about the right way to form a business partnership with local business partners in the vast African continent, 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 Africa. Please send us your suggestions on how we may help to serve you better. Ciao!

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