Communication is an integral part of leadership and management in business, other types of organizations and even in social interactions. This short article highlights the power of the Arabic language and the cultural values that Arabs place on communication. This will help expats, business leaders and any other individual or organizations that work with Saudis to plan their encounters. In addition, it will also help them to strategize around their goals from the interaction.
The Arab culture is a high context culture, when it comes to communication.
They prefer indirect ways of expression and use body and contextual signals to convey a message without having to say directly what they mean. The context must be read and understood well before conclusions are reached. This is due to the use of proverbs, poems and literary texts from the pre-Islamic era. When Islam came, the Quranic text challenged the Arabs and they spent years trying to categorize the text into what they knew. They finally converted to Islam and abandoned their idols, submitting to the miracles of the Quranic text as the word of God, especially since Mohammad, was an illiterate man.
Throughout the past 1400 years, Arabs used and still use the Quranic text as one way to convey meaning in context using poems and other literary texts. The embedded meanings in one verse of the Quran are highly contextual and those who try to squeeze it to fit one interpretation end up distorting it.
The whole purpose of the Quranic high context is that it can be adaptive to every generational context and geographical culture to remain an icon for ethical behavior and dealings between humans.
I grew up hearing my grandmother speak with proverbs and poems and communicating with me through her eyes or facial expressions and sometimes with her hands. I watched Saudis in business meetings as they went through the motions taking longer time and setting a scene for hospitality. The meeting would end with a handshake, but little is said about finance or the deal itself. This is left to the end in a highly confidential arrangement after more meetings like this take place.
Here are few tips to keep in mind when you plan communication with Saudis:
1- Use as many opportunities as you can to be in the culture and observe how people use signals and body language. You may be unable to speak the language, but you will read how they express themselves.
2- If you are going for a short journey, don’t expect to close a deal or sign a contract on the visit. Plan for this to be one of several visits over a lengthy period, that can extend for a few months to a year or two.
3- Build relationships as friends for life, not as business partners. This means accept invitations to homes and social events and invite others who invite you. Have a hospitality budget and focus on building trust.
The Arabs are generous and giving. They will great you with warmth and open arms, mix entertainment with business and build trust over time before they decide to partner. With observation and self-awareness, you will develop a code of communication specific to every Saudi client and learn the culture.