Cross Cultural Management Guide - Bahrain 


What will you Learn in this Guide?

In this guide, expatriate managers will gain an understanding of a number of key cross cultural areas when working in Bahrain:

  • Hierarchy
  • Face
  • Harmony 
  • Leadership style
  • Time and scheduling 
  • Communication style and; 
  • Negotiation style 


Gain an Expert Understanding:

Once you've read this guide, ensure the success of your Bahraini business venture by: 



The Role of a Manager

The business set up in Bahrain is extremely conservative and successful cross cultural managemers will understand the importance of maintaining a degree of formality. What might this involve:

  • It is essential to defer to older people and those in senior positions by treating them with utmost respect.
  • Intercultural sensitivity and understanding the impact of Islam on business practices is essential. 
  • Appearances are extremely important so always wear good-quality conservative clothes and stay in a high standard international hotel.
  • Never do anything that would embarrass a Bahraini in the eyes of bystanders; status is important and you would be wise to flatter your business colleagues frequently.
  • The Bahrain business community is relatively small and your behaviour can quickly become public knowledge so intercultural sensitivity is extremely important. Once a relationship has developed, it will last a lifetime but, equally, if you damage a relationship through poor intercultural understanding then your reputation may suffer on a broader basis.
  • Cross cultural management will be more effective with an understanding of the individual roles and existing hierarchy. Employees do not question the decisions that have been reached. Managers or those in a position to do so will make decisions, while in general their subordinates will wait to be told what to do.


Approach to Change

Bahrain’s intercultural competence and readiness for risk is low. What does this mean for the workplace?

  • Bahrain is a low risk and low change-tolerant culture. New projects will be carefully analyzed to assure that whatever risk they represent is thoroughly understood and addressed.
  • In order for change to take hold, the idea needs to be perceived as good for the group as a whole and not just for particular individuals. As such, agreement to proceed with change needs to be made collectively by the group.
  • It is also important that you are sensitive to the role of failure on your Bahraini counterparts.  Although failure may be perceived positively as a learning opportunity outside of Bahrain, inside Bahrain, this is not the case and both the individual and the group, of which they are a member, may be negatively impacted. 


Approach to Time and Priorities

Cross cultural understanding is important when reviewing the approach to timeline as Bahrainis typically take a fairly fluid and flexible approach to deadlines and timescales. How might this manifest in the workplace?

  • Bahrainis often value and prioritise relationship over deadlines.  As such, you may find that your counterparts don't want to upset others in order to force adherence to a deadline.
  • Things generally take longer than expected since meetings are routinely interrupted by phone calls, or, people popping into the meeting room for an unrelated discussion. Again, this relates to the priority placed on individual relationships.  A manager is unlikely, for example, to tell someone with whom they have a relationship to go away and wait until they have finished their meeting.  As such, several meetings may be required to do what could be handled by a phone call in other working cultures.
  • When working with people from Bahrain, it’s advisable to reinforce the importance of the agreed-upon deadlines and the way in which delivery might benefit the rest of the organization.
  • Increased globalization and intercultural expansion mean some local managers may understand and appreciate the important of adherence to schedules and deadlines.


Decision Making

Decision making is a collective affair with managers reaching decisions after many discussions with everyone involved:

  • Decisions are reached slowly and patience is essential for effective cross cultural management.
  • Once a decision is reached, it is typically handed down to subordinates to implement.
  • Employees  typically do not question the decisions that have been reached.
  • Managers or those in a position to do so will typically make decisions, while in general their subordinates will wait to be told what to do.
  • Risk-taking is limited to those in decision making positions.
  • Who you know is often more important than what you know in this relationship-driven culture. Having the right contacts helps move business along at a more rapid pace. 


Boss or Team Player?

If you are working in Bahrain, it is important to understand that honour and reputation play an important role:

  • It's critically important that you do not criticise anyone publicly, put them into a situation that embarrasses them or cause them to feel shame or upset. 
  • Damaging your counterparts feeling of honour will destroy trust and, ultimately, lower others' opinions of you. 
  • The risk becomes amplified in a team or collaborative setting. If you would like to encourage participation it is important first to clearly establish a non-threatening work environment and communicate fully that team-member participation is desired. Treat all contributions with respect - even if they are off the mark. 


Communication and Negotiation Styles

  • The Bahrainis are skilled negotiators who view high-pressure sales tactics as offensive.
  • There is a tendency to avoid giving bad news or to do so indirectly. It is also common to give flowery acceptances, which may only mean "perhaps". Be aware that 'yes' doesn't always mean 'yes' - it may infact mean 'no'. 
  • If you change the lead negotiator, negotiations will start over so the Bahrainis can develop a personal relationship with this person.
  • Bahrainis do not require as much personal space as most western cultures. As such, they will stand close to you while conversing and you may feel as if your personal space has been violated. Do not back away, as your business colleague will attempt to close the gap between the two of you and you may find yourself backed up against a wall.

Learn About Arab Culture

If you work with Arabs, then you may find our free online course useful.

It's packed full of information on working and doing business with Arabs. You can watch the free version below or over on the course page where you can also access free downloads.

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