As the African Cats are poised to overtake the Asian Tigers, Zimbabwe has gained international attention as a popular investment and expansion location. An English-speaking African nation with blossoming mining and manufacturing sectors, we discovered during our recent business travels that Zimbabwe’s economy is a diamond in the rough.
Ten years ago, new promise was offered by the 2008 constitutional reforms. Following democratic amendments made to the constitution, President Robert Mugabe came to share power with Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai.
Now that Mugabe has stepped down after over three decades of presidency, economists are hopeful that Emmerson Mnangagwa, former Vice-President, and now the new national leader will help continue Zimbabwe’s economic development and revitalize the nation’s industries.
Global business professionals will want to be informed about several cultural dimensions before visiting Zimbabwe. Whether making connections in Masvingo or negotiating in the capital city, Harare, keep these three insights in mind for a successful journey.
1. Power Distance: While the Hofstede cultural dimensions are unavailable for Zimbabwe, other resources, such as The GLOBE Study (Global Leadership & Organizational Behavior Effectiveness) shed light that was invaluable for our visit. According to this study showing culture and leadership data collected for the country, Zimbabweans value assertiveness and future orientation. Expect an hierarchical structure with decision-making power concentrated at upper levels of management. Use professional titles, both in conversation, and to print on business cards. If possible, send upper level executives to represent the company at business meetings, and introduce yourself with your title and role.
2. Soft-Spoken Honesty: It is no surprise that decorum and deference are at the heart of business communications in Zimbabwe. While honesty is important, overt criticism and/or harsh comments cause undue tension that Zimbabweans seek to avoid at all costs. Instead of bluntly expressing dismissal or disagreement with “no”, we softened our remarks with phrases such as “It may be in everyone’s best interest to reconsider…” or “Perhaps we can …” or “We may wish to consider an alternative.”
Nevertheless, it’s vital to be honest about every step of the business deal, especially concerning price and percentage terms. Given Zimbabwe’s political corruption struggles, general business mistrust is common – especially toward international visitors. Overcome this obstacle with tact and transparency, and you’ll foster mutual trust with your Zimbabwean associates.
3. Surpass the Gender Gap: Referred to as “Gender Egalitarianism” in the GLOBE Study, Zimbabwe falls relatively low in comparison to the average GLOBE score. Despite women bearing considerable responsibility in the private sphere, women in business are uncommon in Zimbabwe’s traditionally masculine culture. Women are still expected to fill normative roles as wife and mother, with little expectation for females to integrate into the business world. Visiting businesswomen will want to secure a respected local contact, be accompanied by a male colleague if they are inexperienced in the region, and print their official title and rank on their business card. Avoid discouragement if others seem to dismiss your offers based on gender. Strong business strategy and culturally sensitive communication will help surpass the gender gap.
Zimbabwe’s political and economic transitions hold unprecedented promise. This nation has untold potential with a talented, motivated workforce. If Zimbabwe is on your global business map, consider these three insights for successful relationship building.
Sharon Schweitzer and Amanda Alden co-wrote this post. Sharon Schweitzer, J.D., is a cross-cultural trainer, modern manners expert, and the founder of Access to Culture. In addition to her accreditation in intercultural management from the HOFSTEDE centre, she serves as a Chinese Ceremonial Dining Etiquette Specialist in the documentary series Confucius was a Foodie, on Nat Geo People. She is the resident etiquette expert on two popular lifestyle shows: ABC Tampa Bay’s Morning Blend and CBS Austin’s We Are Austin. She is regularly quoted by BBC Capital, Investor’s Business Daily, Fortune, and the National Business Journals. Her Amazon #1 Best Selling book in International Business, Access to Asia: Your Multicultural Business Guide, now in its third printing, was named to Kirkus Reviews’ Best Books of 2015. She’s a winner of the British Airways International Trade Award at the 2016 Greater Austin Business Awards and the 2017 New York City Big Book Award for Multicultural Nonfiction.
Amanda Alden is an intercultural research assistant with Access to Culture. She graduated with honors from St. Edward’s University with a major in Global Studies and a minor in French, and is currently pursuing a master’s degree in Intercultural Mediations at l’Université de Lille III. Feel free to connect with Amanda at on LinkedIn.