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Poor Understanding of Iran Leading to Cautious Business Approach


It’s nearly a year since the restrictive sanctions imposed on Iran were lifted.

These sanctions were not only applied by the UN, EU and US but also included sanctions from third party countries.

The lifting of these sanctions has therefore been long-awaited by many and sets the stage for exciting times for those companies who have identified potential opportunities in Iran and who are keen to now pursue them.

Although our administration takes place in the sleepy South West of England, we witness global movements and trends first-hand. There’s not much we don’t know about what’s happening with our global neighbours.

The reason we are in the know? Many companies reach out to us to discuss potential training needs and consultancy services relating to their international plans as part of their scoping and planning activities.

As such, we tend to witness global planning before it is realised and implemented and for this reason, we have a good insight into the numbers of companies planning international moves.

What is very specific to Iran, is that companies considering this destination tend to be far more cautious about acting on their training and consultancy plans than they would be with other international destinations.

The delicate nature of Iranian relations at present means that people are testing the waters ‘softly softly’ and are not moving into this market as quickly as they may move into others.

Some of this evident risk aversion relates to a potential lack of confidence in the duration of the sanctions lift. Even finding a bank that will accept payment from Iran is a major headache for companies wanting to export to Iran or establish clients there. Other challenges relate to finding opportunities and understanding the necessary underlying business processes to pursue them.

Another challenge with which we are more closely versed from a training perspective, is the lack of understanding of Iran and the potential fear that this instils.

Those of us growing up in the 70s and beyond have matured with perceptions of Iran which perpetrate a country full of religious fervour, revolution and one at conflict with the western world. Those raised before the seventies however, have typically grown up with very different perceptions of Iran and indeed, many espouse the romantic notions of Persia, which were so prevalent during their upbringings.

When carrying out Iranian cultural training, the extent to which prevalent stereotypes have shaped western thought is quite staggering. Although most people are aware that their notions are stereotypical, it is clearly difficult for them to break them down and see beyond them. The fact that they are so entrenched and clear cut is testament to the strength of our media in forming popular opinion.

Iran based cultural training helps to break down these barriers; providing great insight into the intricate dynamics of Iranian culture. Iranian culture is both engaging and absorbing. It is full of dichotomies and formed of cultural etiquettes which have evolved from a nation of people who go back thousands of years. It is probably one of the most fascinating cultures upon which I have embarked with the political history making for added layers of complexity. Those who have tended to view Iranian culture as similar in kind to Arab culture are surprised at the uniqueness of Iranian culture and the limitations in drawing cultural analogies.

I remember years ago, in a previous career, looking for a company to supply cultural training for a delegation of our staff who were going to Iran. I was instructed by the cultural training company on our ‘Preferred Supplier List’, that attendance at an Islamic Awareness Course would be sufficient instruction for people going to Iran and our staff duly attended. Unfortunately, the course derived very little practical benefit as Iran is not defined by religion and never has been defined by religion.

For those with an interest in learning about Iranian culture but who are not able to attend face to face training, then consider reading Iranian blogs. There are some fantastic ones out there and many are authored by journalists and bloggers who are immersed in Iranian culture. These blogs provide a great medium for accessing Iranian culture and avoid the types of stories which our media outlets so often expound.

We also of course have our free Iran country profile with some more basics etiquette and cultural tips.

 Photo by Kamyar Adl on Flickr (CC BY 2.0)


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