How Much Of Language Is Made Up Of Non-Verbal Communication Negotiate Like an Egyptian

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Negotiate Like an Egyptian

When in Egypt, you better negotiate like an Egyptian. Be sure to leave your cowboy hat at home, as the rules are very different in the Middle East.

Egyptian culture has five thousand years of recorded history, so I’m not going to give a history lesson today. Let’s just say that every aspect of life in Egypt has a special meaning and a reason why they do things as they are. If you ask why something is done a certain way, they will probably recite the story of thousands of years ago.

Egypt is a high context culture which means that much of what is communicated is transferred implicitly with body language, silence, eye contact and oblique words or phrases. For example, it is considered impolite to deny a wish to someone. Instead of saying “no”, other phrases are used to describe an inconvenience, which implies that the answer is no. When an Egyptian says “yes,” he or she may actually mean “possibly.” Communication may include intense eye contact and frequent gestures for emphasis.

The official language of Egypt is standard Arabic and is used in most written communications. Egyptians tend to speak at a much closer distance than Americans. This close contact may be awkward for the Americans, but they are not going away. Staying away could make you seem cold or disinterested. Egyptians tend to be emotional and tend to use emphatic language; they also tend to exaggerate. When making a point, they will speak out loud and repeat themselves for emphasis. They often interrupt each other and talk over other speakers.

Egyptians touch when talking to good friends and established business associates, but until they know you well, they usually limit physical contact to a handshake. However, after he trusts you, he expects close contact including hugs and kisses. That’s a good thing. You made the team.

Non-verbal communication is huge in Egypt. Never point because it’s rude. A “thumbs up” gesture is very insulting similar to our middle finger salute. They remove their shoes often in meetings, but never show the bottom of their feet.

Relationships are very important and gifts are often given. When a gift is needed, you may want to consider an exquisitely made compass; this allows a devout Muslim to always know where Mecca is (even when traveling). When offered coffee always accept, since it is considered very rude to do otherwise.

The Islamic religion dominates Egyptian life. I believe that many solutions to the current problems are found in the orthodox practice of an Islamic life. Egypt is a fatalistic culture that believes that the hands of God define its destiny. There is a pervasive collective thought because of the battle of centuries with the harsh climate and deprivation; to supervise they had to share with others. The individual is always subordinate to the family, tribe or collective. It is a male dominated society.

Business meetings tend to be very formal affairs. They usually start with coffee and conversation even in situations where the issues are important or time is limited. The business day is similar to American business, but with longer lunches and frequent coffee breaks. The pace of business is much slower in Egypt than in the West, so you will have to be very patient.

Time is relative in Egyptian culture and punctuality is not important, although they expect to be punctual. It is common for visitors to be kept waiting; for example, if your meeting is scheduled for 10 am, it may not start until 11 am. Once started, expect interruptions like phone calls, memo signings, and, yes, blackberry messages. There is no need to rush to Egypt.

Decisions will seem to take forever and will almost never be made in the meeting. They also do not understand the American need to close the deal in place and will resist. When negotiating, you can expect voices to be raised and arms to be waived; this is normal even when i agree with you. The Egyptians negotiate as teams and it may not be clear in the meeting who is in charge. Often the most powerful Egyptian in the meeting just listens. He likes to set up and tease the other side; since time is on their side, they figure they can take it and get what they want. They often do.

Relationships are more important than contracts or signed documents. In Egyptian culture, “Kalima”, the verbal commitment to carry out what has been agreed upon, is more binding than a contract; this commitment is a matter of honor. However, it remains very important to agree on the next steps, together with the meeting schedule again.

A few more things:

– Business cards must be printed in English on one side and in Arabic on the reverse. When a card is presented, pause and reflect on it.

– Orthodox Muslims do not drink alcohol or eat pork.

– Adding salt to your food is rude.

– Most of the food is done without utensils. Get used to it.

– When in meetings, sit with both feet on the floor; don’t cross your legs.

– Expect heavy and prolonged eye contact. This may be a little scary by American standards, but this is the behavior of an honest man in Egypt.

– Avoid eye contact, talk to, or touch Egyptian women at all costs. You will find few women in positions of authority in Egypt. Islamic culture has very strict rules about women and morality. Avoidance is key.

– Dress formally in western clothing at all times; don’t even try to look like a local.

Special thanks to Chuong Thai-Lazaro, Veronica Tsang, and Brian Weiss of California State University, Long Beach, for assisting with this research.

John Bradley Jackson

© Copyright 2006

Please visit my website at http://www.firstbestordifferent.com

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