Tips for Hosting Saudi Business Guests That Will Impress Everyone at Work

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Saudi Arabia’s drive for economic diversification is boosting the country’s international presence.

With more companies investing in Saudi Arabia and vice-versa, the country has become much more visible on the global stage.

This has led to an increase in the number of Saudis travelling abroad for business which has resulted in more organizations and companies approaching us for help on how to best host their Saudi visitors.

We thought we would share some of our tips for stakeholders interacting with guests, visitors and colleagues from Saudi Arabia.

Impress everyone at work, including your Saudi guests, with the 7 tips below!


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 If you are welcoming guests from Saudi Arabia and need some cultural insights, you can take our e-Learning course on Saudi business culture or get a bespoke cultural training webinar for yourself or your team.

 

 


7 Tips on How to Host Business Guests and Visitors from Saudi Arabia


1. Saudi Arabian culture is relationship-driven

In Western business culture, there is a tendency to prioritise ‘getting the job done’ as opposed to getting to know people.

In Saudi business culture, it’s the other way around and considerable time is invested into building trust before making traction on the business front. This is an important consideration when hosting your Saudi colleagues.

  • Your relationships will be more productive if you’re able to put time aside for personal discussions and small talk.
  • Coffee, lunches and evening meals are a great way to get started.
  • Avoid business talk and aim to keep these exchanges light-hearted.
  • Demonstrate that you are interested in them as people and not just because they are guests or colleagues.

 

2. Religion may shape the choice of entertainment

Since religion plays an important role in Saudi life, it’s important to consider its influences when selecting your choice of entertainment.

Most Saudis are Muslim and follow Islam, which as a religion has certain dos and dont’s.

  • Although some Saudis drink alcohol, don’t make any assumptions and do not ask people in front of other Saudis, as the answer will always be “no” (even if they do).
  • If you have more conservative Saudi visitors, avoid putting alcohol on tables when eating or at least not directly in front of them.
  • Many Muslims only eat ‘halal’ meat or food so it’s best to check the dietary requirements of visitors.
  • Unless you know for sure that your Saudi colleagues are not religiously inclined, then avoid pubs, bars or nightclubs for evening entertainment.

People doing 'tawaf' (circumbulation) of the Ka'ba in Makkah

The modern-day state of Saudi Arabia is where the religion of Islam was born. Makkah is considered the birthplace. The Ka'ba (pictured above), which is in Makkah, is believed to be the location for the first 'house' built to worship one God, by Abraham. Millions of Muslims visit every year for a variety of religious reasons including the annual pilgrimage (Hajj).

Learn more about Saudi Arabia and its heritage here


3. Prayer times should be considered for observant Saudis

Although not all Saudis are observant Muslims, some are very observant and as a result, pray five times a day.

This can take place at their home, the office, a mosque or even outside. At least 2 or 3 of the prayers will take place during working hours so it’s a good idea to have something prepared for your Saudi visitors.

  • If possible organize a clean and quiet room or area with no footfall which is available for prayer.
  • Having a couple of prayer rugs in the room for use is a nice touch.
  • Where possible, a private bathroom area that allows them to perform the requisite pre-prayer ablutions would also be a help.
  • Observant male Muslims are likely to want to attend ‘Jumma’ prayers (congregational prayers) on Friday afternoons. Find out if there’s a mosque nearby and advise them accordingly.

 

4. Talking about marriage and home life is typically taboo

Saudis tend to be extremely friendly and open to conversation. However, a common faux pas made by Westerners is to focus on husbands, wives and partners in small talk.

It’s best to avoid people’s love lives as it can make people feel very uncomfortable.

  • Focus instead on generic topics such as soccer, travel, food or current affairs.
  • The younger generation will also be fluent in fashion, social media, gaming and pop culture.
  • Saudis love to share information and insights into their own country so ask lots of questions about their tribal roots, cuisine and major cities.
  • You can also talk about plans they might have for making the most of their time in your country or their experiences so far.

 

5. Honour is an important part of Saudi culture

The concept of honour is far more acute in Saudi Arabia than it is in other parts of the world. Saudis take their reputation very seriously.

Saying anything that causes them to lose face can have serious negative repercussions for the relationship.

  • A common way Western hosts lose face is the lack of a welcome they give Saudi visitors – it’s important to make a fuss.
  • Be careful that you don’t say anything that could be perceived as criticism or blame.
  • If you want to discuss something sensitive, then do so in private and frame the conversation in a way that removes potential blame.
  • Also think of ways you can ‘give face’ such as taking photos with guests, award ceremonies or taking people out to eat

Saudis at Signing Ceremony with Western Guest

If you plan on getting involved with negotiations, then click here for our tips on negotiating with Saudis. It's packed full of useful insights and guidance.


6. Saudis tend to communicate subtly and politely

The Saudi communication style can be indirect, and, unlike the Western communication style, Saudis rely much more on context and non-verbal communication.

They use body language and rather than simply say something, will imply it, especially if negative or delicate. Part of this is linked to the sensitivity around face and honour.

  • Look out for ways in which Saudis may be trying to communicate disagreement such as silence or phrases such as “I’ll try”.
  • Never assume a “yes” means a ‘yes’ as it can be used to mean many things including “I hear you”, “I understand” or “maybe”.
  • If you ever feel that something is not quite right, trust your gut instinct and use polite, open questioning techniques to try and understand more.
  • Avoid swearing around Saudi guests as they find it uncouth.

 

7. Gender can play a role when interacting with Saudis

Although the country is changing, traditionally Saudi Arabia has been a gender-segregated society.

Although your Saudi guests will appreciate that things are different in your country, it’s still important to avoid potentially awkward situations.

  • When meeting or greeting a Saudi visitor of the opposite gender, then wait for them to offer their hand before offering your own.
  • If their hand isn’t immediately forthcoming, then consider placing your right hand over your heart and giving a small nod as an alternative.
  • Avoid being alone with a member of the opposite sex in a closed room. For example, if you’re a male and you wish to meet with a female Saudi colleague, then either invite another female to attend too or meet in an open space.
  • Prolonged eye contact with someone of the opposite gender is considered inappropriate.

webinar training online

Take part in a live tailored webinar on Saudi culture and go into more detail around topics such as communication, meetings, teamwork and management.

Let one of our experts talk you through all the essentials of successfully working with Saudis.

 


Saudi Arabia cultural training elearning courses online

 

Alternatively, you can enroll our market-leading Saudi Arabia Cultural Training eLearning course.

You can sign-up in minutes, or we can also provide you with team licenses or a SCORM format for upload to your LMS. Contact us to discuss this further.

 


So, to summarize, here are 7 Tips on how to host business guests, visitors and colleagues from Saudi Arabia

1. Don’t forget about relationship building
2. Make appropriate entertainment choices
3. Manage prayer times and facilities
4. Avoid taboos in conversation and small talk
5. Be careful to protect and give face
6. Try to be as diplomatic as possible when communicating
7. Take note of potential issues around gender


We hope these tips will go a long way to helping you make a good impression with your Saudi visitors.

Let us know how you get on!



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