Time is a Cultural Currency

In business, listening is more important than talking. Too often we forget this simple principle and in our rush to ‘do business’, we adopt a ‘one size fits all’ approach to dealing with clients. On a recent trip to the Middle East I was reminded of the ‘old way’, where the preamble to the meeting is as important as the items for discussion.

In London, I know that I have about three minutes to introduce myself, five minutes to explain the purpose of my visit and ten more to convince the person of the services that my company has to offer. Even if the meeting is scheduled for an hour I am aware that if I am unable to have my host interested in my offerings within the first twenty minutes, the prospect of our cooperation dims.

This is because Western society has an increasingly short attention span, more than 4 clicks on a website to find what we need? Forget it, we’re outta there! Getting straight to the point, using short sentences and clear messages is the norm for doing business in the West; our time is one of the most highly valued currencies.

In sharp contrast to that, the Gulf is a world of its own. In the UAE, a business meeting cannot start without a polite social talk, which may go on for over 15 minutes. I remember an experience I had in Aljazeera’s offices a few years ago on my first visit to Qatar. I had started my pitch with one of the network’s executives immediately after shaking his hand and sitting down on his luxurious couch just as I would have done with any BBC or Sky director in London.  However, I was immediately cut short by our host who started offering us beverages and congratulating us on our luck with the weather, which was perfect for that time of year.  Nowadays, I know to expect the routine of tea or coffee prior to engaging in the core of the discussion. Of course a compliment on the quality of the refreshments never goes amiss and after the customary 15 minutes of chitchat, it is time to subtly move into business talk. Listening and letting the client steer the meeting is something I have learnt over the years in travels to Qatar and elsewhere in the Gulf and it has proved invaluable for Albany’s sister company, the Tricomms Group, which, after just five months has been doing extremely well.

Understanding the environment within which we operate will always be incredibly complex and getting it wrong can compromise success, particularly in some of the places where we run projects. It is our understanding of the cultural subtleties and listening that make us so good at working locally and in a way that develops an organic footprint. We continue to guarantee success using this approach in the UAE, Somalia, Sudan and elsewhere.


If you want to find out more about Albany or the Tricomms group, feel free to contact Tina on tina@albanyassociates.com