Business Etiquette in Nigeria
Mastering Doing Business in Nigeria- Etiquettes. By Oluwaseun P. Adeola
As the world is growing rapidly to become a global village, entrepreneurs, multinationals and tourists are swiftly making effort to reap the enormous benefits that globalization affords. Companies are entering new and emerging markets to increase brand equity, turnover and subsequently increase revenue. Tourists are in the search of new experiences and pleasures they cannot get from their country of residence. In one way or the other, people and firms move from one country to another to achieve organizational goals and satisfy wants. Therefore, for this to be made possible, it is essential that those who travel, or intend to do so; to conduct business activities and otherwise in other countries must learn and understand the ways and manners the people of a particular country conduct and transact business.
The ways and manners a particular set of people behave and conduct themselves is called etiquette. According to the Cambridge advanced learners’ dictionary, “Etiquette is the set of rules or customs which control accepted behavior in particular social groups or social situations”. However, this essay is confined to the business etiquette in Nigeria. It is an established fact that business etiquettes vary from country to country as cultures also differ from one another.
One of the most important issues to be careful about in Nigeria is how greetings are exchanged. Nigerians are so particular about how they greet each other. They consider it rude and an unpleasant if anyone passes by without greeting. Therefore, to be successful in transacting business in Nigeria, unlike almost all the western world; one has to create reasonable time for exchanging greetings with business counterparts (The Hindu online 2004). Furthermore, in case of business meetings, before going into the scheduled meeting, Nigerians expect some level of familiarization by a way of exchanging pleasantries in a jovial and loving manner. Another thing a business man should give attention to is the process of the greetings. The people of Nigeria will be somehow offended if one should rush the process up. In that way, it will be difficult for the foreigner to get the best out of the Nigerian partner.
In the same vein, the way Nigerian address themselves are quite different from many other countries in the world. Nigerians place much emphasis on titles and honorifics.
Usually, an average Nigerian enjoys being addressed with honorifics such as academic titles, professional titles and the use of surname is also important. It is not however a good practice to address people with their first names. One last aspect of greetings is that when greeting someone who is obviously much older; it is a sign of respect and deference to bow the head
To make a good success of any kind of business or venture in Nigeria, a standing relationship must first be created and maintained. It has become, over the past few decades, part of the Nigerian business etiquette to get acquainted with the person with whom one has to make business deal. Therefore, the first thing to do when creating relationships is to extend a hand shake accompanied with a warm and welcoming smile. When a Nigerian gets a welcoming smile, he feels cherished and loved and subsequently considers the meeting or deal as important as well.
Moreover, creating business relationships between business partners demands that one must take the time to ask about the person’s health, the health of the family or other obvious pressing family issues. This act makes a Nigerian feel more compassionate and enthusiastic to do business and meet targets. On the other hand, if a foreigner, for example a Finn, who does not consider relationship before business meeting necessary, overlooks the issue of creating relationship before making business deals; the business is hardly going to be a successful one.
However, the business etiquette of creating relationships has the reflection of the culture on it, and as such, depends on the part or region of Nigeria. If, in the northern part (a Muslim majority population), a male foreigner should not be too forward to greet a woman in the name of creating a good relationship. The man is expected to wait patiently while the lady extends such a gesture
Some Nigerians think it is unpatriotic to say that Nigerians do not keep to time. The truth is that Nigerians do not most times give priority to time consciousness. The Nigerian people put the families, friends and other associates ahead of any scheduled business functions. In other words, Nigerian who is running late for a meeting can give some reasonable time to chat with friends and families on his way to the meeting. In essence, they believe that the business function to be attended is not, in any way, more important than friends and family members.
Therefore, a business meeting schedule for 8.00am may have to start by 10.am and nobody is offended .In actual fact, everybody invited for the meeting expects that the meeting will kick-off by 1 to 2 hours behind schedule. Contrarily, Nigerians do know that it is indeed a virtue to always be on time and to keep appointments. They actually respect those who keep to time. Therefore, a business man wanting to do business in Nigeria should not be deluded that Nigerians do not keep appointments and, as such, join in the wrong act. He is expected to do the right thing, as Nigerians also know the right things and will respect and appreciate doing business with those that know and act rightly.
Nigeria is a multi ethnic country of about 521dialects. (kwintessential.com 2009) As a result, to be able to transact business with less difficulty and ease, a lingua franca, which has the ability to unify the people and the system, has to be adopted. On the other hand, Nigerian has been under the colonial rule of the Great Britain between the years of 1914-1960. The British, during the colonial era, built schools and taught the people the use of English language. Therefore, the official language in conducting business across the country is automatically, the English language.
However, Nigerians, most especially people from the southwestern part, employ the use of proverbs and humors to pass messages across to the other party. It is, therefore, not unusual that during meetings and negotiations, such proverbs and humors are translated and imported to the use of English language. In the same vein, people from the southern part of Nigeria tend to speak with high voice or intensity. It should therefore, not be mistaken for anger or disagreement, as it is interpreted in other cultures.
Most importantly, Nigerians employ much of non verbal communication style such as eye contact, body languages which a foreigner may find hard to decode or understand. In such case, it is not a good thing to pretend to understand what the message means, as a misconception of the message may result in the failure of the business. It is however, noteworthy to state here that, the non-verbal communication is not intended to keep the foreigner in the dark; it is merely a cultural factor that has been embedded in the communication styles of the people.
Doing business in Nigeria requires that one knows the ways the people regard breakfast, lunch and other entertainments. It is part of the business etiquette that the people eat breakfast before work begins. Nigerians will give their best when they have eaten in the morning. Also, the lunch period is considered to be important, as well.
Worthy to note is the traditions that take place in the process of eating. Usually, Nigerians eat with the bare hands, in a hand bowl. Traditionally, it is said to be more delicious and clean when they eat with their bare hands. However, caution should therefore be taken while eating with Nigerians: bowls, plate or other tools should not be passed with the left hands- it is a taboo. If a business person, for instance, a European, who does not place much premium on the importance of either hand, ignores this and succeeded in passing the plates with the left hand, the Nigerian sees it as an insult and immediately feels disrespected and degraded. Subsequently, the morale and enthusiasm of the Nigerian is killed and, in turn, the business meeting or deal may adversely be affected. Ultimately, when eating or wining with a Nigerian, it is advised that one consciously learn how things are done.
Gift giving is yet another interesting aspect of the business etiquette in Nigeria. If invited to a Nigerian dinner or at someone’s home, it is a welcomed idea to bring gifts such as: fruits, nuts, chocolate for the host. Another simple way to create and develop a good business relationship is to bring gifts for the children. One important thing to always remember as part of Nigeria business etiquette is that gifts should be presented with the right hands ,both hands preferably, as mentioned earlier .In addition, gifts from a man to a woman must be said to have come from the man’s mother, wife, sisters or other female relatives. It should not, however, be said that such gifts come from the man himself. Also, the Nigerian people cherish when the gifts are wrapped, without preference to any color. Usually, the gifts are not expected to be opened in the presence of the one that presented it.
The way people dress is also an important part of the business etiquette in Nigeria. Indeed, everybody is expected to dress well. Usually, men are on suites or tie. If one dresses casually, then it is assumed that the meeting is also casual as suggested by the dressing. Moreover, it is totally unacceptable that men dress in short and woman in revealing outfits for business meetings or functions. Therefore, it is advised that women wear descent dress that is far from revealing or exposing their body. It is a common saying in Nigeria that people will be addressed the way they dress.
Finally, I believe that with conscious effort to understand the different ways and manners business are conducted in different countries, companies and private individuals can achieve success in their various endeavors. Nigeria is a sovereign state with her peculiar customs and rules which, in a way, control the behavior of the people. Therefore, to make trip or business deal, void of conflict and regrets, foreigners must learn to accept the forbidden and unacceptable acts such as, among others, the use of the left hand and women wearing revealing outfits. As mentioned earlier, it is a good thing for foreigners to spend time to create good and standing relationship prior to business meetings and deals. If tourists, business expatriates, and representatives will do things as it is accepted in Nigeria and also respect the culture and the norms, the sky is the limit to their goals and objectives.
Cambridge Advanced Learner’s Dictionary 2009
Etiquette (accessed 02.05.09)
Nigeria- language, culture customs and etiquette (accessed 24.04.09)
The Hindu: online edition of India national newspaper April 24, 2004
Business Etiquette in Nigeria (Accessed 23.04.09)
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