Although Iran is considered a part of the Middle East, it is important that you do not confuse Iranians with Arabs. Both have different languages, cultures and histories.
The official language of Iran is Persian – known as ‘Farsi’ to Iranians. Although it borrows many words from Arabic, it is a unique language.
Iranians are predominantly Shia Muslims. However, some Azeris, Kurds, Afghans, Beluchis and other ethnic minorities in Iran are Sunni. Shia Islam’s differences with the Sunni variety are limited and sometimes over emphasized.
People should always be mindful of their behavior in public. Clothes should be conservative and non-revealing. Avoid talking loudly. Do not hold hands with the opposite sex in public, unless these are children or older members of the family.
When meeting someone, always shake hands. As a male, you should wait to see if a woman extends her hand. If she doesn’t, then simply nod your head and smile.
When meeting someone for the first time, stick to formalities. Once a relationship has been established, your Iranian counterpart will quickly start to address you with your first name.
As a male in business, you will be expected to dress smartly and conservatively. A suit is standard, although wearing a tie is not necessary.
Women should wear very conservative clothing that covers arms, legs and hair. When in public, women must cover their hair with a scarf. However, the last few years has seen incredible changes in what the authorities are willing to tolerate. Women can now be seen wearing make-up, jeans and scarves that barely cover the hair. However, as a foreigner it is best to err on the side of caution.
Business hours are Saturday to Thursday 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Lunch is usually an hour at around 1 p.m. No business is done on Fridays.
Although many Iranians in business will have a good understanding of English, it is best to arrange for your own interpreter to accompany you.
At the beginning of any meeting, engage in small talk and ask about people’s health, family and work. Wait for your counterpart to initiate the transition in conversation to business matters.
Always come to Iran knowing two things. Your success is defined by your ability to build effective personal relationships, combined with a clearly outlined and well-presented proposal.
Building a relationship with your Iranian counterparts is critical. The first meeting should be focused solely on getting to know each other. Once a relationship has been established, you can safely move on to business matters.
Iranians are astute businesspeople. They enjoy haggling and getting concessions, so prepare for long negotiations.
When negotiating, Iranians will start at extremes in order to gage your response. Prior to negotiations, know your target figure and work slowly towards it through meaningful concessions.
Decision making can be slow. It is most likely that you will meet and negotiate with less senior people first. Once you are seen as trustworthy and your proposal financially viable, you will move on to meet more senior members.
- Iran, it’s language, culture and history
- Discussing family in a general, non-intrusive way
- Food, especially the variety of local cuisine
- Sports, especially Football (Soccer) is always a good topic
- Professionals will enjoy talking about their education and employment
- Questions about Islam, unless they are very simple, inquisitive questions
- Contentious issues that may lead to heated discussion like the Revolution of 1979, Iranian-US relations, and Israeli foreign and domestic policy
- Sex and roles of the sexes
- Personal questions, unless a very close relationship has been established. Also don’t divulge too much personal information about yourself
- Any negative comments about Iran regarding the leadership, infrastructure or people
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