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Cross Cultural Management Guide for Kuwait

The guidance below is for managers who want to learn more about the management style and business culture of Kuwait.

It provides some useful insights for managers who are relocating to the country for employment as well as those who may have Kuwaiti employees in their global or multicultural teams.

Topics include:

  • Hierarchy
  • Leadership style
  • Time
  • Communication style
  • Negotiation

Being a Manager in Kuwait

To ensure successful management in Kuwait, you need to be aware of the strict protocols and rituals that exist.

  • Older Kuwaitis and those in senior positions should be treated with respect and deference.
  • Kuwaitis enjoy hosting foreign guests but expect them to understand the rules of their country and obey them.
  • Socializing with your Kuwaiti colleagues is an important method of reinforcing a business relationship.
  • Exchanging mutual favours is an important component of business relationships.
  • If you are asked for a favour, agree to do it even if you think you may not be able to comply.
  • Your Kuwaiti colleague will understand that circumstances prevented you from fulfilling the request and he will appreciate that you agreed to try to help.
  • Since Kuwaitis judge on appearances, stay in a high-standard international hotel.
  • Likewise, good quality, conservative clothes mark you as someone of status.
  • They respect education, so casually mention if you have an advanced degree from a prestigious university; however, do so cautiously and without appearing boastful.

The Role of a Manager

In Kuwait, as in other hierarchical societies, managers may take a somewhat paternalistic attitude toward their employees.

  • They may demonstrate a concern for employees that goes beyond the workplace.
  • This may include involvement in their family, housing, health, and other practical life issues.

Approach to Change

Kuwait’s cultural appetite for change is minimal. This means that change is difficult to bring about and is not received with any enthusiasm.

  • Projects will need to be carefully analyzed every step of the way to assure that all the risks have been assessed and understood.
  • Failure in Kuwait causes a long-term loss of confidence in the individual as well as in others.
  • Because of this attitude, cultural sensitivity is going to be required, especially when conducting group meetings and discussing contributions made by participating individuals.

Approach to Time and Priorities

Kuwait is a fluid time culture, and as is the case with many fluid time cultures, it is also very relationship-oriented.

  • People in Kuwait will not want to upset others in order to force adherence to a deadline.
  • While appointments and schedules need to be set well in advance as a sign of respect for the individual, you need to understand that those schedules are seen as flexible, not necessarily needing to be adhered to.
  • Global working means that some managers may have a greater appreciation of the need to enforce timescales and as such, agreed deadlines are more likely to be met.

Decision Making

In general, business retains a strong hierarchical structure when it comes to making decisions.

  • Who you know is often more important than what you know in this relationship-driven culture.
  • The word 'wasta' refers to the power someone has by virtue of who they are or who they know.
  • Having the right contacts helps move business along at a more rapid pace.

Boss or Team Player?

If you are working in Kuwait it is important to remember that reputation plays an important role.

  • If you would like to encourage group participation it is important first to clearly establish a non-threatening work environment and communicate fully that their participation is desired.
  • Successful management will rely on the individual’s interpersonal skills and ability to maintain cordial relationships with their subordinates.

Communication and Negotiation Styles

The Arab culture is tribal in origin and if there is a pre-existing agreement to do something or not do something because it would affect another Arab’s business, that agreement will be difficult to overcome.

  • Business will only be discussed once an atmosphere of trust and friendship has been established.
  • Meetings are often interrupted and decisions are reached slowly.
  • You will have to repeatedly refocus people back to the topic.
  • Kuwaitis are shrewd negotiators who are especially interested in price.
  • Many rate their skill by how far they move you from your initial offer.
  • Maintain eye contact while speaking.
  • It is a good idea to include some flexibility in scheduled delivery dates.
  • Although negotiating is done in English, contracts are written in Arabic.
  • If there are both English and Arabic versions, the Arabic will be the one followed.

Learn about Arab Business Culture

If you want to learn more about the culture of the region, then we have a free eLearning course available.

Watch it below or on the course page.



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