Dos and Don'ts of doing business in Bahrain
Bahrain, which means “two seas,” is made up of 33 islands and is located in the Persian Gulf between Qatar and Saudi Arabia. Although, it’s considered to be a rather liberal state, its society is steeped in local traditions and customs. Doing business in Bahrain is not difficult if you realize that there's a whale of difference between the way it's conducted there and in the USA.
Recognizing and respecting the traditions and protocols of the people of Bahrain is very important and this is a very big step in any business deal.
You need to invest time and energy in building relationships and establishing a good reputation for yourself. Bahrainis distrust strangers and won't work with them, and when they do, they take time to make decisions.
No contract is ever signed at the first meeting itself, they need space and the chance to work at their own speed. Hastening them or trying to force their hand will only work against you. There's something magical about a letter of introduction from a mutual acquaintance and it's a great way to start off a meeting.
Importance of Hospitality
Bahrainis are Arabs first and then businessmen; hospitality is a big part of their culture and this is evident at business meetings. Anyone who gatecrashes into a meeting is never turned away but welcomed to participate. Refreshment offered must never be refused as it's considered disrespectful –meetings usually commence once the coffee cups are filled.
As meetings and negotiations could stretch into days and weeks perhaps, the chances of your being asked to dine with them will arise; if so remember to eat only with your right hand.
It's not strange to see an important business meeting commencing with small talk, so don't be in a hurry to start talking shop as soon as you enter. Bahrainis could get personal and ask you questions that you're normally never asked—so don't be surprised. In turn, you will be expected to reciprocate by evincing keen interest in their lives. Do remember that questions about women in the family are taboo, unless of course you're well acquainted with them.
While greeting a room full of people, the most senior person must be greeted first and you need to remember to use their full name and title while greeting them. Restrict the camaraderie to shaking hands and talking pleasantly—don't slap a Bahraini on the back in your excitement. Also refrain from pointing fingers at them. Wait for them to shake your hand.
While interacting with Bahraini businessmen, you'll have to get used to the idea that you will never get straight answers to your questions, and if they're not keen on doing business, you'll have to learn to interpret that from their statements. A categoric 'NO' doesn't exist in their vocabulary and you'll do well to refrain from using that word while negotiating. Their body language, their evasive statements and lack of enthusiasm should suffice for a 'no.'
What you wear counts
For business attire in Bahrain is strictly formal. Even if you're sweltering in the heat, you’d need to wear a suit and tie—of course the local businessmen can opt for their flowing robes or western attire.
Although English and Arabic are used in business, do translate one side of your business card into Arabic and don't schedule meeting for July and August. This is the time that they go out of town.
It takes a little time to get used to Arab culture, but if you follow the customs and protocols, you're in for a fine time.