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Eureka: My experience negotiating with Middle Easterners
by Jay Gutman
2018-05-02 06:44:11
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I spent a lot of time negotiating with Middle Easterners and some patterns emerge. Some negotiations went great, others not so well. Here's what to expect, in no particular order.

-The protocols of the elders of zion. And other conspiracy theories. The protocols of the elders of zion is a very popular book in the Middle East and has been studied by many. A lot of Middle Easterners believe in the theory. One reason is that Middle Eastern society is a tribal society where social circles tend to be closed, that is one person can not enter another social circle. Middle Easterners tend to believe that all societies are like that, except for the Jews who are one huge giant tribe where everyone knows everyone. So when people don't have closed social circles, Middle Easterners tend to say they “act like the Jews.” By the way don't expect to meet their entire social circle. You would be lucky if they introduce you to one person from their circle. 

middeas1_400-Who says stories need to be accurate? When negotiating with Middle Easterners, you will hear them tell a lot of stories that will make you raise eyebrows in terms of their accuracy. One such story is that the late Itzhak Rabin converted to Islam and that's why he made peace with the Palestinians but was eventually assassinated. You will hear other crazy stories about leaders, the military and government. There also tends to be an almost unhealthy fascination with money, power and with the Jews.

-Never say “I.” When negotiating with Middle Easterners, you will discuss politics, the economy, perhaps society, but one thing you can rarely if ever discuss is yourself. You can't talk about your position, your title, your experience, what you had for lunch or dinner, you travel experience, your future personal aspirations are all off limits. 

-The story of a nation of brave fighters. Expect to hear a lot of stories and historical accounts of wars and battles won. Middle Easterners tend to take great pride in their family members being former solidiers or “martyrs” partly because in the Quran it says soldiers and martyrs should be honored. 

-Aggressive talk. Middle Easterners tend to be pleasant, nice, kind overall but they tend to pick their battles. If they don't like you, they'll let you know. 

-Who says meetings need to be structured? The last thing you should expect during the negotiation is structure or agenda items. If you're lucky you will discuss the political or business deal, if you are unlucky you will go home with stories of their ancestors who were soldiers or martyrs.

-Who says you have to listen to the speech? Someone is giving a speech, everyone else is chatting away or playing with their smartphone. Don't expect people to listen carefully to your speech.

-Conversation domination. In the Middle East, the older person usually dominates the conversation, and others nod in approval. Try to have one-on-one negotiations rather than group negotiations.

-You can get a good deal if you're weak and submissive. Unfortunately there's some truth to what I'm saying here. The best deals I got were deals where I appeared weak and submissive. When I was strong and assertive, I rarely got to any form of deal and was derided for my “arrogance.”

-What language should we use? French, English, Arabic, a mixture of all three? You can get better deals if you mix French, Arabic and English. But in some cases they will deliberately start speaking in classical Arabic, the kind very few can understand, and a lot of what they will say is actually gibberish. 

-Did you read my resume? As I said, it's not about your, it's about your country or your company. Few people will bother to read your resume or your biography, nor will that use that at your advantage or disadvantage.

-Who said we need an informal chat over a cup of coffee? Formal group negotiations tend to be the norm, and few will accept to have informal consultations over coffee or lunch. Again Middle Eastern societies are closed, tribal societies who rarely open up to strangers.

-They can swear they'll never talk to you again, and come back a couple of hours later like nothing happened. If the negotiations collapse, they could leave the room angry, but come back half an hour later like they never left the room. If the negotiations are tough or sensitive, expect frequent desertions after which they tend to come back. Publicly announcing that the negotiations failed will tend to upset them, because they had the intention to come back.

-Everyone wants to be a Muslim, except for the media. Expect total respect and devotion to Islam. They are also convinced that everyone in the world wants to be a Muslim, but that the media is preventing the rest of the world from converting. Another popular myth.

-Win-win means I win and you win, not my country wins and your country wins. Oddly enough, despite individualism not being a big thing in the Middle East, the outcome of the negotiation will be the legacy of the negotiator, not of the nation. So it will always be the Al-Sisi negotiations or the Rouhani negotiations, and Egypt or Iran will be a footnote.

-Euphemisms, euphemisms, euphemisms  You need to spend a lot of time dealing with Middle Easterners to understand their codes. They are rarely straightforward, and almost everything has a double meaning.

-Schadenfreude. Don't expect too much empathy when mentioning your problems or what could go wrong with the deal. Problem aspects tend to be viewed with schadenfreude, and don't expect them to try to work on a solution.

-They can take the money and run. Be careful. In some Middle Eastern countries, they can sign the deal, take the money, and run with it. Financial deals and conditions need to be carefully analyzed and codified, because a lot of times they will see no obligation to carry out their obligations.

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