Patience is a virtue in the Arab World


I’m not known for my patience.

Business colleagues knowing my personality find it mildly amusing that, given my general approach to business, that I chose to work with Saudi businesses and to those without the experience of the working culture it takes some explaining.

  • When doing business in Saudi Arabia it is their culture that counts not your domestic and international experience.
  • Invest time getting to understand it and acknowledge that you will never change it.
  • At best you may have a small influence, but this will only occur when your Saudi business partners decide the time is right.

Western business culture makes a strong separation between work and religious belief. Even very devout Christians are unlikely to invoke divine scriptures or mention the will of God in a typical business encounter. However, when doing business in Saudi Arabia (and elsewhere in the Middle East), it is imperative to be aware of the all-pervasive nature of the influence of Islam.

Life and business are important aspects of life, they are governed by the prescriptive tenets of a religion which forms the backdrop to society. Nothing happens which has not been willed by God. If a transaction comes off, it is due to the will of God, if it fails it was not meant to be. Thus, a sense of fatalism and a resulting lack of urgency are normal in the Arab culture but often quoted by business people from non-Islamic cultures as being the over-riding impressions of a trip to Saudi.

The often quoted Arabic phrase, In Sha Allah, (if God wills it) represents a deeply rooted belief in the unending activity of a Supreme Being, rather than an excuse for inactivity or lack of motivation. To succeed in the Middle East you need to learn and accept that water only runs downhill and attempting to push it uphill will only lead to frustration and a loss of credibility.
We always look for a Western Educated Arab or an ExPat to bridge the cultural gap but such people can only act at the fringe.

The observance of religious ritual takes precedence over all other aspects of life and prayer punctuates the business day. Meetings’ contain numerous references to God and His Prophet Mohammed and offices display numerous Koranic texts. Accept it and work with it or fail.

Do not underestimate the deep conviction of your Saudi contacts and do not imagine that reference to religion is in any way a ploy or insincere. It might seem strange to us but it is us that that need to adapt.

Patience is a virtue that will be rewarded.


Author – Christopher Slay


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