Bahrainis do not require as much personal space as most western cultures. Since Bahrainis prefer to do business with those with whom they have a personal relationship, a letter of introduction from someone they know allows them to trust you. They will spend a great deal of time on the getting-to-know-you part of relationship building.
You must be patient. Impatience is considered bad manners and may deleteriously affect future business dealings. The Bahrain business community is relatively small and your behaviour will quickly become public knowledge. Relationships take time to grow and must be nurtured. This may require several visits.
Bahrainis tend to be indirect communicators who tell people what they think they want to hear if to do otherwise would make the other person uncomfortable. It is a good idea, therefore, to privately confirm agreements given in public so you may determine if the person was merely trying to save face.
Communication is also quite formal and follows a hierarchical structure. Always demonstrate deference to the most senior person in the group.
Bahrainis are non-confrontational; if displeased with your behaviour, Bahraini businesspeople may prefer to have an intermediary discuss the situation with you rather than confront you themselves.
Bahrainis often touch others while conversing to enhance communication. However, under no circumstances should you slap a Bahraini on the back or point at them with your finger. Avoid looking at your watch when speaking with Bahraini businesspeople, as it is a sign of disrespect.
Titles are important. Use the honorific Mr and any academic or political title and the first name. 'Sheikh' is a good title to use for old men, or 'Haji' for those who have undertaken the religious obligation. Do not use only the first name until expressly invited to drop the titles.
Meeting & Greeting
When doing business, handshakes are always used and can last a lot longer than you may be used to. Always use the right hand. Holding hands among men is common so do not be surprised if your hand is held while you are led somewhere. If you are introduced to a woman as a male, it is advisable to wait and see if a hand is extended. If it is not, then do not try to shake hands.
Appointments are necessary and morning meetings are generally preferred. Do not try to schedule meetings in July and August as many Bahrainis leave the country during the worst of the summer heat. Do arrive at meetings promptly.
Meetings are generally not private until a relationship has developed or there is a need to discuss matters confidentially. In general, Bahrainis have an open-door policy, even when they are in a meeting. This means you may expect frequent interruptions. Others may wander into the room and start a different discussion.
Meetings are often interrupted. You will have to repeatedly refocus people back to the topic. Business meetings start after prolonged inquiries about health, family, etc.
Good personal relationships are important since trust is required in order to conduct business. Bahrainis are event rather than time-driven. The actual meeting is more important than the timeliness or outcome.
Companies are hierarchical and the highest-ranking person makes decisions.
Decisions are reached slowly. If you try to rush things, you will give offence and risk your business relationship. Do not use high-pressure sales tactics.
There is a tendency to avoid giving bad news and to give flowery acceptances, which may only mean "perhaps". If you change the lead negotiator, negotiations will start over. Proposals and contracts should be kept simple.
Business attire is conservative and dressing well gives a good impression. Men should wear lightweight, good quality, conservative suits, at least to the initial meeting. Women should avoid giving offence by wearing extremely conservative clothing.
For black tie events the norm would be national dress or dinner jackets for gentlemen, evening gowns or cocktail dresses for the ladies who may find it well advised to bring a warm wrap given the prevalence of air conditioning and the fact that it is considered polite to have your shoulders covered at all times.
Business cards are given to everyone you meet. Have one side of your card translated into Arabic and present the card so the Arabic side is readable to the recipient. Present and receive business cards with two hands.
Make a point of studying any business card you receive before putting it into a business card holder.