As in many other Middle Eastern countries, hospitality is a key value in Iranian culture. The word for it, which is mostly untranslatable since special to the Iranian culture, is “Tarof”. Learning the ways of Tarof can be somewhat irritating: Many people , out of pure politeness, would say “No” in occasions where many non-Iranians would say yes and wouldn’t treat it as a situation where one has to be extra polite. Iran has a very old culture and a society where the art of diplomacy feels like an integrated part of communication in Farsi. By far one of the best ways to establish respect and reputation is to learn about diplomacy, as factor that is also very important in business.
As a tribal people, the lines between community, personal relationships, and business are blurred. Understand that what is considered right (ethical) from a Western vantage point, may not necessarily be right, according to your Middle Eastern associate. Business ethics cannot be viewed through an ethnocentric lens. Understand too that decisions are not made in a vacuum. Family members might be consulted in business dealings. Even if family is not employed by the company, they may be viewed as consultants or extended associates. Centralized business and decision making are the key distinguishing features of Iranian business culture, compared to the western standard of decentralized decision making.
The working week in Iran begins on Saturday and ends on Thursday. Many places such as schools or private companies are also closed on Thursdays. That makes Friday on the Iranian calendar the equivalent to Sunday on the Gregorian calendar. Though you could say the best time for scheduling international deals, long-distance meetings, or international phone calls would be from Monday to Wednesday, there are private companies in Iran who schedule meetings on the Iranian weekend as well. We are culturally less inclined to strictly separate things as visible in our entire (business) culture. Out of my experience I can say that most western companies simply like to separate their times. And since we are working on getting brands into Iran, and see the current shape of developments in Iran as a great business opportunity, there are many of us who gladly put in a chunk of extra time, not to mention that we are active in the Marketing and Advertising Industry. The days with the most effective output Working hours tend to be from 8.00 to 17.00. Be aware of Persian holidays like Nowruz or also Muslim holidays like Ramadan and schedule business meetings around them. Iranians have a flexible attitude towards time. Therefore, foreigners should not expect meetings to always start and end on time even though Iranians will expect punctuality from them. Being patient and including some extra time in your schedule can help business relationships.
Iranians tend to have a very indirect communication style and rely heavily on nonverbal cues and figurative forms of speech. This is a means of saving face when communicating and maintaining individual integrity. This aspect of Iranian culture has to be carefully considered when doing business because a direct refusal, for example, could be interpreted as impolite. When exchanging business cards with your Iranian colleagues, it is important to use your right hand or both hands as the left hand is considered against business etiquette, attention lefties!
When given a business card, review it carefully before putting it away. In business meetings in Iran decisions tend to be made by the directors of the company (centralized business culture!). The decision making process can take a while due to their indirect style of communication. Avoid putting pressure on the decision making process as this can have a counter-productive effect and might give a negative impression.
So as long as you take these little things into consideration and train yourself to improve in them for the sake of staying professional and your business, you will be able to establish a great working relationship with your associates and business partners in Iran. Now feel free to browse our website, to see a first-hand example of a business partner that has all the values we talked about and is a leading expert in Digital marketing in Iran.
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