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Bilateral Chamber Member, IIC Firm, Discusses Top 4 Ways on How to Win Influence in MENA

There are inherent difficulties to working within the Middle East & North Africa (MENA) region for western professionals. Trade regulations, obtaining proper permits , language barriers and navigating a new culture can be difficult. Gaining influence will become an important factor in wining contracts and being productive within the region.

Influence and power tend to be concentrated within groups in MENA. If you want to gain influence for your company and projects it is important to have good cultural manners , become a trusted member of a group and obtain the social capital necessary to secure contracts. Here are four cultural tips to gain influence.

Tip 1: Embrace The Group:
Understanding the difference between western and MENA cultures is helpful. Western cultures in general are based on individualism. Individuality, individual pursuits, personal advancement, self actualization are prized. In MENA the culture is collectivist, meaning people identify as part of a greater group made up of family, friends and associates. They do business, extend favors and share resources with group members primarily. Members are completely loyal to each other and trusted. They share resources, favors and influence with other members of the group.

Tip 2: Slow Down, Seek Friends, Be Loyal:
Friendship is the first order of business in MENA. It is not surprising that to really become part of a group you must seek true and genuine friendship with local people. Anyone you send into the region representing your organization should be armed with a cultural game plan and ready to establish relationships on behalf of the company. Here are a few other cultural tips:

  • Do not ever seem overambitious for personal gain.
  • Slow down and seek out real friendships before business.
  • Do not discredit those who seem ordinary or unimportant at first glance. Their friendship may prove to be invaluable if anyone in their immediate or extended group could be helpful to your business endeavors.
  • Friends are loyal to the end, don’t ever break loyalty
  • Be as helpful as you possibly can and remember this is not a meritocracy; friends within circles help each other tremendously and share resources and influence.
  • Always use your expanding network first. If you have met friends look within your network to meet needs locally.

Tip 3: Embrace The Culture, Get Social:
Do not rush. You may spend a lot of time getting to know people. Taking social trips is a good use of your resources. With so much emphasis on family, friends, associates and the interdependence they have on each other you can image social interactions and “social capital” are important. Drinking tea, visiting the home, getting to know people and navigating various events carries a lot of meaning.

Tip 4: Exquisite Cultural Manners Are Required:
To become a trusted friend it’s important to demonstrate not only respect of local cultural practices but also mastery of cultural manners.

Success within the Middle East & North Africa (MENA) is possible even for those who are unfamiliar with the region. Cultural understanding is an important part of ensuring your success. The biggest mistake you can make working in a foreign region is not taking the time to learn and respect the local culture and cultural values. Be prepared to represent yourself well. A local partner or translator is not enough. Everyone on the team working together can create a powerful force. Your life will just be easier when you understand “how things get done” and how to gain influence for your projects and function within a new culture.

*International Intercultural Consulting Firm is a professional cultural etiquette consulting firm. IIC teachs cultural manners and etiquette to western professionals in the MENA region. For more information or to contact IIC Firm directly, please email:  Dr. Christen Behzadi –