Management Communication & Negotiation

American University in Cairo

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Dubai, United Arab Emirates - Culture & Negotiation


This paper looks at a series of cultural and historical tendencies within the framework of cultural dimensions, as explained by Geert Hofstede, a multinational businessman and prominent interculturalist. In this light, I begin to analyze the economic and cultural roots of fairly well-documented Arab business practices. It is interesting to focus on the United Arab Emirates because it boasts a tremendously diverse and rapidly modernizing society as well as a pastoral heritage heavily influenced by religious, environmental, and political factors. While not covered here, it would be interesting to assess the factors persuading the UAE government to adopt recent drastic economic reforms.

After introducing the UAE economy, I briefly discuss Hofstede’s perception of the indigenous population of the Arab world and the UAE, in particular. Next, I mention some of the unique customs and communication preferences present in the UAE and then I highlight some specific ways in which its heritage affects organizational tendencies. Last, I illustrate how businesses in this diverse corporate environment demonstrate varying organizational structures that has an impact on manger-employee relationships.

I. Economics & Labor

The UAE was traditionally recognized as a strong merchant economy, like much of the Arab world but it in the last few decades, it has undergone a drastic and economically beneficial transition. Like other Gulf States, it has enjoyed a tremendous economic boom because of its supply of petroleum and has been most successful in modernizing and opening its doors to foreign investors and multinational corporations (MNCs). Here we will briefly discuss its historical tendency to be a merchant culture as well as the unique influence of imported labor on its modern economic boom.

Much has been written about the Middle East being the center of worldwide economic activity half a millennium ago but it is crucial to recognize that trade has continued to play a central role in the economies of the region. In the 16 th and 17 th centuries, for example, vibrant trade routes originating in the Middle East extended as far as China in the East and Europe and Africa in the West. (Hanna 1998) In fact, until the discovery of oil in the UAE, Dubai continued to rely heavily on trade, specifically of its renowned pearls. (Parker 2003) This merchant culture created rather skilled and shrewd negotiators that have a predisposition to bargain for virtually everything. This has the occasional effect of frustrating foreigners who do not know how to respond or compete with such aggressive bargaining strategies. (Anwar 2003)

Also, among Gulf countries, the UAE has consistently ranked high in its tendency to import foreign workers. In fact, over eighty percent of its labor pool has come from abroad since the oil boom that originated there in 1973, with the volume of foreigner workers reaching an amazing eight-nine percent of the total in 1980. (Richards, 1998) By harnessing the skills and energies of a diverse, largely imported labor pool, it has fueled tremendous growth in non-oil sectors as well. Bringing in engineers, manual laborers, doctors, and teachers, the UAE managed annual non-oil GDP growth of over 14% per year during the late 1970s. (Richards, 1998) It is important to analyze how the culture of the region was impacted by these changes.

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