16 Oct 2016

When In The Arab World - An Insider's Guide To Living And Working With The Arab Culture | Eye-Opening Blog-Interview With The Author Rana Nejem

Rana started out her career as a broadcast journalist with Jordan Television. After working with CNN during the First Gulf War, she moved to the Royal Hashemite Court where she was responsible for His Majesty the late King Hussein’s International Media Department for 2 years. Rana then moved into the field of communications and public relations leading the public diplomacy and communications work of the British Embassy in Amman for 18 years.
Throughout her 25-year career - whether it was conducting interviews with Heads of State, making arrangements for Royal visits and VIP events, formulating communications strategies or attending diplomatic corps' receptions and formal dinners - business etiquette, protocol and cross-cultural communications were always an essential part of her work. Rana learned first-hand from top professionals in the field and put it all into practice throughout her career.
As Communications and Public Diplomacy manager, Rana provided Cross-cultural communications advice to British Ambassadors and diplomats as well as Western consultants working in the Middle East region.
Rana has a Master's degree in International Communications and Negotiations from The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, and is certified as an International Etiquette consultant by the International Etiquette and Protocol Academy in London. Rana was also trained by The Protocol School of Washington in International Protocol Management, and is a trained coach in Intercultural Intelligence.
Rana founded her company in 2013 - Yarnu - an Arabic word meaning to look towards, to aspire to with calm and serenity. Yarnu helps people to distinguish themselves by raising their social and cultural intelligence, enabling them to float with ease and confidence from one situation to the other. Yarnu is the first to specialise in cross-cultural communications and business protocol in the Middle East region. Yarnu is the exclusive partner-agency of the World Communication Forum in Jordan.
I had the pleasure to meet Rana in person in 2015, in the stunning city of Davos in the Swiss Alps. We met during the annual World Communication Forum - #WCFDavos, when I moderated Rana and Dr. Volker Stoltz in the Debate: Cross-cultural VS Global - which shall be the communication of the future?
Directly from Jordan, we had the pleasure to hear from Rana about her new book which has great insights on how to better understand the Arab culture, communication styles and way of doing business from an insider the culture perspective. A true guide for foreigners intending to live or work with Arab cultures.
1)   You have recently written a book entitled 'When in the Arab World - an insider's guide to living and working with Arab Culture'. What is the purpose of your book? What does it talk about? Who should read it?
When in the Arab World is a practical map that will help non-Arabs understand the eople and demystify the culture of the Arab world – the beliefs, values and social structures that determine the way business is conducted and how things are done. The book is ideal for business people, diplomats and just about anyone who travels to the region for work. 
My intention is to help people avoid the pitfalls and all the stress and frustration that come with working with a different culture. Writing this book hasn't been easy – finding the balance between the "general" and the "specific", while not falling into the trap of oversimplifying matters, was a challenge.  

And of course, as an Arab myself, I had to make sure that I did not end up romanticising my own culture. So throughout writing this book I strived to be honest and authentic and to ensure that it remains a useful practical guide, I have included many interviews with business people, diplomats and expats from all over the world speaking about their own experiences of working with Arab culture.
2)   What are some of the most important cultural differences between Arab Culture and European cultures? Let's take for reference as comparison in this interview, the British Culture.
The main difference – which, if properly understood will explain a lot of things – is the main motivator of behaviour in each culture. In Europe and North America the main motivator of behaviour is about being right and avoiding being wrong. While the main motivator for behaviour in Arab culture is to safeguard honour and avoid shame. While the legal system determines whether I am right or wrong – innocent or guilty, it is my community and the people around me who determine whether I have acted in an honourable way or not. 
Understanding this basic concept will help you understand everything else such as styles of communication and the importance of the community versus the individual.

3)   How important is family to business affairs within the Arab Culture? Does it differ much from the British culture in that respect?
I cannot overestimate the importance of family in Arab culture. And by family here I mean the extended family of uncles, cousins, second cousins, the wider clan and the tribe. 
The family here is both a social and political force. It is a strong support system that stands by its members in both good times and bad, but also holds them accountable for their actions that may bring shame to the entire family. Loyalty to the family comes above everything even business. 

The vast majority of businesses in the Arab world are family-wned which makes their management and business style different from businesses elsewhere in the world. Senior managers working for such business who are not family members will find it somewhat difficult to be brought into the inner circle of decision-making.

4)   In terms of values, beliefs and viewpoints, which are described in details in your book, which would be your advice to global executives to get prepared to deal with Arab culture?
Before travelling to a new culture – especially for work – one must take the time to research and learn about the people and what is most important to them. 

For the Arab world, you must not forget that it is a vast and very varied region that is made up of 22 independent countries, each with its unique culture and local traditions that can also differ from one region to the other within the same country. 
My aim in the book is to give the reader a better understanding of the reasons behind why things are the way they are and how it works; then the reader is able to intelligently assess each situation and decide the best course of action that will help avoid conflict, stress and misunderstandings.
But if I had to single out one or two main values or beliefs I would say to understand the centrality of honour, pride and dignity in the Arab psyche. Also to understand how religion here is a way of life that affects almost everything that we do in this part of the world, including business. 

5)   In what regards communication styles, which is your main advice for global executives when dealing with the Arab world?
If you understand that the main motivator of behaviour is to safeguard one’s honour and to avoid shame, then it is no surprise that we prefer the indirect style of communicating. While in most other western cultures the aim is to say what I mean and mean what I say; in the Arab world, it is more about trying to get the message across while maintaining harmony, saving face and avoiding the risk of upsetting the relationship. Therefore third parties are often used, or stories that are meant to get the message across. But do not forget that we deal with people and not cultures, and each person should be treated and respected as an individual.

6)   What is your advice on how to have business etiquette in global business relations when the culture of one's counter-part is still unknown? What would you advise in three steps?
My best advice would be to approach each situation with a sense of curiosity. It is very easy to judge and think in terms of common stereotypes and to compartmentalise people into boxes. Yet, it is much harder to be a cultural learner with an open mind. It is a conscious decision that one needs to take every day. Being curious and trying to find the points of commonality with your own culture instead of how it is different will help bridge the gap. 
It is important to know that it is neither wrong nor right, and no culture is better or worse than the other; we are simply different. 
And it does not mean that you have to agree with the values and beliefs of the new culture, it just means that you understand and respect it while being true to your own. So, it is like the chameleon – you adjust the externals while your DNA remains the same.
For more information about Rana's book, please visit her company's website - Yarnu http://www.yarnu.com/publications.
Click here to get your copy of the book at Amazon website.
Thank you very much Rana for your cooperation with this interview and most importantly for sharing your knowledge about the Arab culture, communication styles and way of doing business with the rest of the world. Thanks for enriching our knowledge on such a part of the world which literature is not yet vastly available for Westerns.

Obrigado! Dankje! Thank you! Follow me on Twitter @FlaviOliveiraBR

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