Ask Ali: Will an Emirati boss be different to an expat?

In this week's Ask Ali we learn whether an Emirati boss will be different from an expat, and why some male Emiratis do not meet the eye of their female colleagues.

Dear Ali: My previous manager at work was from the United States. He was a very friendly and approachable team leader. My new boss will be from the UAE. What will the differences be between them? WA, Philippines

Dear WA: That’s difficult to answer, since I don’t have many details from your side – whether the manager will be a man or woman, their age, experience or which field you work in. However, there are some general points that I can share.

There might be some differences because of their cultural backgrounds, but in a professional world, their way of running a business should be equally good.

Arabs often give priority to politeness in social and workplace communication, demonstrating respect to each other. Personality-wise, you won’t face anything that might offend you.

But it really depends on how you quickly adapt to the style of the new manager. What’s most important is to figure out what their priorities are. That helps in adjusting to the demands of the job.

I’m sure you already know that in the Gulf and Arab culture and faith, teachings set certain behavioural rules that people have to follow. You can notice the difference when these norms differ from other people’s standards, but even in this case, Arabs are happy to find compromises. For example, shaking a woman’s hand. We consider it her right to not shake a man’s hand if she doesn’t want to; as men, we never feel offended, though if she does, it’s also absolutely fine.

When it comes to the business matters, our professionalism usually has international standards.

I hope that this information will help.

Dear Ali: Why do some of my male Emirati colleagues avoid eye contact with me when I talk at meetings? KN, Germany

Dear KN: First of all, I hope you don’t take it as an offensive gesture, as this isn’t meant to show disrespect, as some people may think.

The reason that some people don’t look at a woman when she talks is because Arabs value and honour her by avoiding any kind of disturbance when she speaks. Some concentrate more on the words that she’s saying, rather than on how she looks.

The roots of this behaviour lie in Arab culture and faith. But nowadays, the norms we accept and adopt in a business environment aren’t as clear as in our social lives.

Not everyone follows this school of thought – you’ll find those who make eye contact with you while you’re speaking.

In both ways, you should consider it positively. This is how Gulf and Arab culture is: it teaches that women deserve some special treatment when it comes to any kind of communication.

When I ask some Emiratis why they avoid eye contact when speaking to their female expat colleagues or businesspeople from different companies, the one and only answer would be: we don’t avoid eye contact, but the lady was not dressed properly and her cleavage was showing.

So, you see, it’s about respect and trying to avoid seeing a part of the body that can’t be avoided when speaking to someone. This is also not restricted to this example, but also to other men or women who aren’t modestly dressed.

Ali Al Saloom is a cultural adviser and public speaker from the UAE. Follow @AskAli on Twitter, and visit to ask him a question.

Published: December 11, 2014 04:00 AM


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