Three Tips for Being Smart Cross-Culturally During Ramadan
July 08, 2015
Ramadan date: 2015: evening June 17th – evening July 17th
Approximate dates 2016: June 6th – July 6th
For most government organizations and government linked companies, time for Muslim prayer will have a bearing on meeting time. In addition, during the fasting month of Ramadan, they tend to dislike a meeting in the afternoon.
~Executive, Malaysian Airlines
Sheikh Zayed Mosque in Abu Dhabi, UAE
Think your business calendar and implementation schedule aren’t impacted by belief systems, philosophies or religions? Think again. How many millions of dollars will be lost when your construction project is delayed, as was the case in this example?
Case Study: A senior project manager for a U.S. tech company was concerned about whether his two-month implementation schedule should be modified to accommodate the holy month of Ramadan. Concerned with potential delay, his VP decided to proceed with “business as usual” and scheduled meetings and production nonetheless.
The U.S. project team faced not only absent team members, but questions about their disrespect for Islam. The implementation was subsequently delayed three months, then six months. Numerous U.S. deadlines were missed, penalties were assessed, and promotions lost.
Cross-Cultural Awareness: The Holy month of Ramadan impacts group as well as individual decision-making, especially within large companies, government and public sector organizations.
Spending time virtuously, and respecting Islamic law is particularly important during Ramadan. Work hours are significantly reduced, employees take holidays, telecommuting increases, and colleagues are likely to decline business travel. As such, when key principals are out of the office or are working reduced hours, the decision-making process slows considerably.
Cultural Business Practices for Employers/Visitors:
• Consider hosting a weekly Iftar for the workforce, when both Muslim and non-Muslim employees have an opportunity to get into the spirit of Ramadan. Iftar is the meal eaten by Muslims to break their fast after sunset every day of Ramadan.
• Schedule meetings around prayer times during the holy month of Ramadan. Islamic law impacts time as it relates to holidays and the traditional Muslim workweek, with the weekend falling on Thursday and Friday. In geographic locations where Friday remains a workday, many offices close at noon, as Muslims take a two-hour break for prayers at a local mosque.
• Remember that Muslims believe the past and future rest in God’s hands. You are likely to frequently hear the phrase Inshallah, which means, God willing.
Sharon Schweitzer JD is a recognized international etiquette expert, an on-air contributor, corporate trainer, and the international award winning author of Access to Asia: Your Multicultural Guide to Building Trust, Inspiring Respect and Creating Long Lasting Business Relationships. Her work and travels have taken her to over 60 countries on seven continents. With over 20 years’ experience providing consulting and training to more than 100,000 attorneys and corporate executives in law firms and global corporations, her clients range from MD Anderson to Charles University in Prague and NFP. She has been quoted by the New York Times, Fortune Magazine, and numerous international media outlets. To learn more about Sharon, connect with her at www.sharonschweitzer.com; follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/austinprotocol and Facebook at www.facebook.com/protocolww.
Photo credit: ©iStock.com/badahos
Heading to Mexico City, Part 2
April 29, 2015
In Part One of this blog post on the wonderful Mexico City I outlined five things to think about before you leave for your business trip. In this second part, here are five practical and intercultural etiquette tips that will help smooth your visit after you have arrived:
- 1. Getting There: Benito Juarez Airport is Mexico City’s main airport, located close to downtown. Only commissioned taxis are available there, so travelers must hire these services and pay their rates. However, this apparent restriction provides considerable safety for travelers carrying valuables, since all taxis and drivers represent well-established and trusted companies.
- 2. Currency: ATMs are available everywhere and using them is more convenient than using exchange services that tend to impose high commissions. Just be cautious about using public ATMs, as you would in any large city.
- 3. Traffic: As in any major city, traffic here is chaotic and unpredictable at peak hours. Plan ahead for delays when possible, and realize that even though your hosts may suggest a trip could take 45 minutes, it could take up to twice as long—or longer.
- 4. Transportation: While taxis can be hailed in the street, it is safer to use radio-taxis booked over the phone. They will pick you up at an agreed location within 20 minutes and are likely to charge a fixed rate. Although more expensive, this is certainly the safer option, especially at night.
- 5. Communication: Mexican businesspeople prefer to avoid overt disagreements. Instead of saying “no” they’ll often use “maybe” or “I’ll get back to you.” However, they not get back to you and this should be understood as an indirect rejection, or a negative response to a proposal.
Photo credit: ©iStock.com/Phototreat
10 Reasons to Head to Mexico City
April 27, 2015
Entrepreneur-in-residence at The University of Texas at Austin’s School of Information and CEO/Founder of Bigwig Games, Gary Hoover, recently offered “10 Reasons You Should Jump On the Next Flight to Mexico City.”
Mr. Hoover is absolutely right; Mexico City is a wonderful destination for business travelers and tourists alike! What I particularly loved was his enthusiastic description of Mexico City as the country’s “primate city,” meaning that in his opinion it far exceeds any other city in Mexico, in terms of size and importance.
In order to capitalize on the strategic economic importance of Mexico City to the future of the United States, it is vital that during your business travels you understand and embrace its culture. In this two-part blog post I have listed practical and intercultural etiquette tips to help you navigate this thriving, exciting city. In Part One, I cover five things to think about before you set out; in Part Two, five things to bear in mind while you are in Mexico City itself.
Before You Go:
- 1. Business Attire: Appearance is important to Mexicans. Conservative, stylish, high-quality clothes and a well-groomed presence are crucial in business. Think carefully about your accessories, including a briefcase, handbag, pens, watch, and cell phone. Brand names for these, as well as your attire, help make a good impression. Professional women wear suits with skirts and dresses. Keep in mind that you may be judged on the way you present yourself in both business and social situations.
- 2. Relationships: Mexicans place considerable emphasis on personal relationships, which is why introductions from family and close friends may take precedence over professional credentials and even experience. Never pass up an opportunity to cement friendships by accepting social and business invitations, and book the length of your stay to take socializing into account. This is one way of ensuring that your hosts will freely introduce you to other members of the business community.
- 3. Names & Titles: Mexicans have two surnames: the first one is the father’s surname, the second the mother’s. It is important to practice how you will handle introductions and greetings in advance, especially if you are not familiar with the Spanish language. Upon initial introduction, Mexican businesspeople should be addressed by their professional title (e.g. Licenciado, Ingeniero, Abogado, etc.) followed by their father’s surname. As a sign of respect, assistants or subordinates refer to their bosses by title only, for instance El licenciado. However, if you don’t know someone’s professional title, you can always use courtesy titles (e.g. Señor or Señorita). It is best to address Mexican businesspeople by their first names only when they invite you to do so. Most Mexicans appreciate being addressed by both surnames in writing. Official documents or contracts require all first names and surnames.
- 4. Health: Pollution has been cut in half since the early 1990s, and on most days you can once again see the volcanic peaks that ring the city, situated some 2,200 m (7,218 ft.) above sea level. At that altitude, summer temperatures rarely exceed 27ºC (80.6 ºF), and winters are cold but not freezing. If you tend to suffer from altitude sickness, be sure to take the necessary precautions such as drinking plenty of fluids and avoiding alcohol. If you have this, bring your preventative medication with you.
- 5. Time: It is important to confirm meetings several times before your arrival, including the day before, especially if these were set far in advance. Many Mexican businesspeople consider appointments with visitors to be tentative until they know for sure the person is actually present in Mexico. As with any large city, the traffic makes it very difficult to predict commuting times. In terms of international etiquette, it is not uncommon for meetings to start from half an hour to an hour late, so schedule your appointments with that in mind.
Photo credit: ©iStock.com/poladamonte