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With a population mainly consisting of expats, the protocols for doing business in Qatar often depend on who the business is being conducted with. Expats will mostly be working with other foreigners, but their senior associates are more likely to come from Qatar and other Gulf states.
There are many business opportunities in Qatar, but expats need to be properly prepared in order to succeed in a country where businesses either soar or sink. By familiarising themselves with Arabic business culture and showing sensitivity in a foreign business environment, Western expatriates give themselves a better chance of succeeding.
Usually 7.30am to 12pm and 3.30pm to 7pm, from Sunday to Thursday. Friday and Saturday are weekend days but this varies between businesses.
The official language of Qatar is Arabic, although English is widely spoken and understood.
Smart and conservative, especially for women.
Exchanging gifts when meeting Qatari business associates for the first time is customary. Gifts should be wrapped and of high quality – traditional perfume is a popular choice. Never give alcohol or anything made of pigskin.
Qatar is an Islamic state, but the government prides itself as one of the more progressive Gulf countries with regards to attitudes toward women in the workplace. Foreign women, especially, are respected and valued in Qatar – although they might need to dress and behave more conservatively than they would back home.
It is also worth bearing in mind that major shifts in the Qatari corporate world will take time and that the vast majority of senior positions are likely to be filled by men for the foreseeable future.
Business culture in Qatar
Expats need to be respectful of the large influence that Islam has on daily life in the emirate, including business. Becoming familiar with a few basic cultural guidelines is a good start.
Personal relationships and networking
The business culture of Qatar is typically Arabic, and a lot of emphasis is placed on personal relationships between associates. Qatari businessmen prefer to do business with people they are familiar with and whom they feel they can trust. For this reason, expats may need help from a local agent (or sponsor) who can provide them with important introductions and recommendations.
Being patient during the first dealings with potential Qatari business partners is important too – a lot of time is devoted to 'getting to know each other' before any actual business is discussed.
Qatari business people are often more interested in whether they get along with their prospective partners than in corporate expertise or qualifications. Business meetings can be long, subject to numerous personal digressions, and may even be interrupted by unexpected visitors. Even if a meeting's agenda becomes abandoned, expats should not resort to hard-sell tactics, which may be interpreted as unnecessary aggression. Publicly criticising or undermining associates is also frowned upon – if it has to be done, it's usually done in private.
Meetings should also be confirmed ahead of time as business schedules can quickly change.
While some things might seem strange for expats, resisting the urge to get impatient is important. Long-term, personal business relationships in Qatar can certainly be worth the time and energy.
Management styles in Qatar are usually hierarchical and staff are expected to follow orders to the letter. Note, however, that locals rarely say ‘no’ directly, which can affect communication across different levels of business.
Business etiquette in Qatar reflects the closeness between personal and professional life that many Qataris maintain. Handshakes are the accepted greeting between men, and the most senior person present should be greeted first. Arabic titles, such as Haji and Sheikh, should be used where appropriate to show respect. At the same time, personal discussions are common, especially in the beginning.
Exchanging business cards when meeting associates for the first time is common. The reverse side of business cards should be printed in Arabic and expats should spend some time examining someone else's card before putting it away.
Attitude to foreigners
Qatar is far more friendly and open to foreigners than some of its neighbouring countries. That said, expats must always behave with respect for Islamic culture and traditions. Arabic translations of important documents should always be at hand, and learning a few basic Arabic words and greetings is always appreciated.
Dos and don'ts of doing business in Qatar
- Do be respectful and observant of Islamic culture and traditions
- Do look to cement long-term, personal relationships with Qatari business associates
- Do make an effort to engage with the culture – learn some Arabic words and become educated about Islam
- Don't be impatient, rude or aggressive – this kind of behaviour will alienate expats from the corporate culture in Qatar