Ethiopian society is very traditional. Certain customs and ceremonies are highly regarded deeply rooted in the social interactions of the country. In the business world in this country, observing their customs are equally as strong. For those who are interested in doing business in Ethiopia, they should be mindful of observing the proper etiquette.
Business operations occur during the hours of 8:30 am – 5:30 pm Monday through Friday. An hour is taken for lunch break. Business meetings are rarely conducted within the parameters of a rigid schedule or agenda. Social small talk may occur for an extended time while tea or coffee is served at the beginning of the business meeting. Proper etiquette dictates that you do not initiate discussion, but allow your host to begin speaking in the meeting. Be prepared for the fact that meetings do not end within a particular time period. The meetings conclude when your Ethiopian host feels that the business matters have reached a sufficient resolution. In their culture, Ethiopians like to conduct business with “friends”. That is why they take the time to develop relationships with business associates. This type of social interaction in the business world may be new to you. However, if you want to do business in their culture, it is important to go with the flow of their routine.
In order to operate in the business world in Ethiopia, it is important to follow the rules of proper etiquette as it pertains to business attire. For men, formal business attire is standard as in suits and ties. Attire for women is formal as well, so short skirts are not suitable.
Amongst people of the same gender, direct eye contact with a light handshake is customary. People in Ethiopia do not use a firm grip in shaking hands as is done in Western countries. Direct contact between those of different genders is not considered proper etiquette.
Addis Ababa is the capital city of Ethiopia. For anyone doing business in this city, most of the people you will be associating with for such purposes, speak English. However, it will help if you can master the Amharic language spoken in this country. It is a Semitic language which is the second most Semitic dialect spoken in the world, second only to Arabic. Mastering some words in this language will go a long way toward cultivating goodwill and establishing social business relationships.
Communication is highly valued in this country. It is important to address others by their honorific title and then their first name. However, if you are invited to drop the honorific title, feel free to do so. If you speak too loudly, it is considered rude. All conversation should be humble and respectful in tone. The Ethiopian culture places high emphasis on being honorable and dignified. Any other type of behavior would be considered extremely unprofessional and those actions can cause embarrassment.
When it comes to offering your business card, it is important to offer it with your right hand. Remember to remain polite and do not rush through the greeting process. Proper etiquette dictates that you ask the other person about his or her health. Make polite small talk and ask about their work.
Doing business in Ethiopia can become a more rewarding experience if you follow the etiquette rules outlined in this article. Dignity and honor are considered important factors in every aspect of communication in this country. Remember to master the proper etiquette as it pertains to attire, language, greetings and interaction at business meetings.