Afghan Culture

Business Culture

Meetings

  • Punctuality is very important. Arrive on time, but also be flexible if delays occur throughout the meeting.
  • Shake hands with everyone present during the introductions and wait to be seated.
  • Address people by their last name and title. The title (e.g. Mr/”Sahib”) comes after the last name. If someone is a Doctor, you would say “Dr. (last name) Sahib”.
  • The exchange of business cards over introductions is not essential. However, if you are given one, receive it with your right hand and look over it closely to show respect to their credentials.
  • There may be tea or refreshments served during the introductions that will be refilled throughout the meeting.
  • Begin conversation with small talk that allows everyone to get to know each other. If people are already acquainted, ask about one another’s well-being. It can be seen as rude and dismissive to start talking about business without taking the time to enquire about people’s well-being.
  • It is important to follow the protocol of the age and status hierarchy in meetings. For example, wait for someone older than you to initiate the conversation before speaking. It can be helpful to watch how others behave and learn where you stand in this social hierarchy
  • There may be several people that attend a meeting to simply listen and learn but make no contribution. Some may also wander in and out while you are still talking. Try not to be deterred by this – interruptions to meetings are common.
  • Remain patient and avoid being directive or bossy when trying to get things done, especially in newly established relationships.
  • Expect the only fixed times on the meeting’s agenda to be when practising Muslims have to pray. The midday prayer often interrupts meetings. Be patient and respectful if this happens. They will return when they have finished.
  • Expect things to progress slowly. Issues are not often resolved in the same meeting that they are identified in.
  • Avoid correcting someone in a meeting in front of others. This can cause them shame and embarrassment.
  • Bargaining is an acceptable and common way of negotiating. 
  • It is best to make your position appeal to the most senior person present as their opinion usually directs the decision-making.
  • During the decision-making process, time will be taken to consider all sides, opinions and stakeholders. The decision will then often be reached slowly in a way that does not damage anyone’s honour. To rebuke any person’s ideas in front of them can be considered equivalent to you disgracing them.

 

Relationship-Oriented

Relationship building is essential to business in Afghanistan. In a turbulent economy, people depend on their networks and so loyalty is crucial. To build the trust that will facilitate business, an Afghan will want to know a lot about your background. Expect this to take time and involve many questions. Be patient and provide answers – agreements and commitments are rarely reached without this foundation. Afghans are often very perceptive of people’s character and will be discerning if you seem insincere. Inviting an Afghan to your house is a great way of building a genuine personal relationship.

 

Considerations

  • Appreciate that hierarchies are deferred to and respected at all times. Directions from superiors are generally given quietly and are obeyed immediately.
  • Expect an Afghan to struggle whilst doing business with someone who is of a significantly different age to them. They can find it very hard to disagree with the opinions of those older than them due to their cultural obligation to respect elders.
  • If the senior Afghan of a company or business changes their mind on a matter, they may not make it known to everyone immediately.
  • If doing business with an Afghan in their country, it is generally wise to explain how your offer benefits Afghanistan, their tribe or their situation. Afghan expats are less likely to be tempted by this.
  • On the Corruption Perception Index (2017), Afghanistan ranks 177th out of 180 countries, receiving a score of 15 (on a scale from 0 to 100). This perception suggests that the country’s public sector is highly corrupt.
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