Bangladesh, one of the most promising emerging markets in the world, unlocks numerous business opportunities to foreign investors. But how to close a business deal in Bangladesh successfully?
If you want to do business here, you first have to be aware of Bangladesh’s rich business culture. In this article, we will explain the foundations of the business etiquette in Bangladesh.
Table of contents
How to prepare for a business meeting in Bangladesh?
Offices in Bangladesh are heavily male-dominated. However, they will treat their female business partners with respect.
The title matters the most in Bangladesh, so make sure to match the positions of the people attending the meeting. If you are a director or a higher level manager, they will take you seriously.
The process of closing a deal in Bangladesh can be lengthy. Be prepared to attend several meetings as Bangladeshis rarely make business decisions based on one encounter only.
While your primary purpose is to get a ‘yes’ from them, to get there you need to build trust and having a mutual connection will give you a clear advantage.
A referral through a mutual associate will help you make initial contact with future business partners. Emerhub can be your partner while doing business in Bangladesh and we can assist you further in dealing with Bangladeshi business associates.
Men shake hands to greet in business meetings, and if there are any women present, they will most likely give you a polite nod. Keep in mind that you must not extend your hand to a Bangladeshi woman unless she initiates the first move.
The appropriate time to exchange business cards is after introduction. Make sure you use your right hand when giving and receiving business cards and treat the cards with respect.
Do not take any notes or write on the card. Instead, study them briefly, give a nice comment, and put the card in your card holder.
Meeting structure in Bangladesh
It is essential to know how a business meeting works in Bangladesh to save you from uncomfortable situations and also to help you communicate effectively.
First and foremost, do not schedule any meetings for 1 p.m as Bangladeshis will pray at 1.15 p.m and eat after the prayer.
A meeting in Bangladesh begins with small talk. It is a must to start by building rapport; this may include personal questions about health, family, etc.
To formally start, the most senior in the group usually begins or leads the conversation about the objective and content of the meeting.
Also, keep in mind that punctuality is not very common and meetings often don’t start at the scheduled time, and they can also consume way past the scheduled end time.
The agenda generally serves only as a guideline for what are the goals the meeting should achieve.
Don’t rush the meeting because you must first make your potential business partner comfortable with you and being too forceful conveys a rude message.
How to communicate with Bangladeshis
Bangladeshis are indirect speakers, although it depends on to whom they’re talking. For close friends or relatives, they may speak in a direct manner.
They also tend to express themselves in long sentences, and the true meaning of what they want to say often becomes clear only when put in context with non-verbal cues.
Being an attentive listener is one of the notable characteristics of Bangladeshis. In communication, they are courteous and also love flattery.
It is also acceptable to speak about your educational qualifications as they genuinely value it. Just make sure that you talk humbly without sounding superior.
Learn to use euphemisms
As indirect communication is an inherent feature of the business culture in Bangladesh, learn how not to be blunt and express yourself without using absolute terms.
For example, if your associates forward you an invitation and you cannot make it, do not reject the invite immediately. Learn how to use euphemisms. It is better to use phrases such as:
- I/We will try
- It may be hard for us to come
- Kindly give us time to think about it
- We have to discuss it over
Non-verbal communication in Bangladesh
Building a relationship through verbal communication is crucial. However, you also have to be familiar with the non-verbal cues that Bangladeshis use.
Bangladeshis do business in a very serious manner, and display of any emotions is considered unprofessional.
When it comes to facial expressions, Bangladeshis smile less, which you can mistake for a sign of unfriendliness. In reality, they keep the serious atmosphere to demonstrate their maturity and professionalism.
When you are receiving or giving a gift, business cards, etc., always use your right hand. Also, it is impolite to cross one’s legs in a meeting.
The concept of ‘face’
Respect is an essential part of doing business here. Bangladeshis value a high level of professionalism, so it is vital to remain calm and avoid showing strong emotions.
The concept of ‘face’ plays a crucial role in the Bangladesh business culture. Its essence is to respect a person’s social standing, honor, and reputation. For this reason, it is vital to remain diplomatic and save your business partner from any kind of embarrassment.
Here are a few tips on how not to cause your Bangladeshi counterpart to lose face:
Always be tactful. This one helps you maintain calmness and professional ambiance in the meeting. If you remain tactful all throughout, it will prevent you from saying anything that may embarrass your business partner.
Keep up with a high-level of professionalism. Since Bangladeshis follow a formal and hierarchical structure in business meetings, you must show professionalism all the time.
Avoid interruptions. It will have a negative impact if you make disruptions during the meeting, remember, they always try to maintain harmony.
Keep an eye on your behavior and body language. Make sure to avoid disrespectful behavior or body language. For example, crossing your legs or using the thumbs up sign can be rude here.
Above all, make your business partners feel heard and respected. Causing your future business partners to lose face will lead to an unsuccessful business deal.
Business etiquette in Bangladesh
Generally, the business attire in Bangladesh is conservative. Men usually wear dark- colored suits and shoes. Women wear more conservative business suits and blouses and avoid revealing clothes or sleeveless attires.
Even though it’s always summer in most parts of Bangladesh, you should not wear casual clothing.
If your meeting is just before lunchtime, your Bangladeshi business partners might invite you to stay for lunch.
In case you are invited to a meal but cannot make it, you can express it indirectly using phrases such as “I have to check” or “I will try” as it is considered rude to turn down the invitation immediately.
In a typical business lunch or dinner in Bangladesh, the guests are served first followed by the oldest and the order of tenure. Remember to let the oldest person eat first before you begin.
It is also common to eat with bare hands in Bangladesh although it is not seen as offensive if you ask for utensils.
Make sure to eat, drink or pass the food with your right hand. The left one is used only to support or assist the right one in serving and giving food.
Only accept as much food as you can eat and expect the people around you to urge you to consume more food. It is fine to say “I’m full” to politely decline.
It is usual to offer and understand the value of gift-giving especially when closing a deal. Here are some of the things that you must remember when giving a gift to a Bangladeshi:
- Use both hands when offering a gift
- Avoid gifting white flowers or frangipanis as Bangladeshis typically use them at funerals
- Refrain from alcoholic drinks
- If you intend to gift food, the safest option is to give sweets/chocolates
- Money is never considered as a gift
- Do not open a gift in front of the giver
Note that Bangladeshis often find the thought more meaningful rather than the material gift itself. Also, if you have a good rapport with your associates, they might ask to take a photo together.
DHAKA: (from left) Mahmudun Nabi Khan Chowdhury, Assistant General Manager, Ajeyo Rohitashwo-Al Quazi, Group Chief People Officer of aamra Companies and Kadri Lahi, Country Manager of Emerhub Vietnam.
6 tips for doing business in Bangladesh successfully
To sum up, here are the most important things to keep in mind if you want to reach a business deal in Bangladesh:
#1 Avoid hard selling
Don’t be too aggressive to close the deal, it is disrespectful and undermines your credibility.
#2 Double-check by asking questions
The implicit way of communication of the Bangladeshis can cause a fair amount of misunderstandings. Make sure you ask questions and phrase them in several ways to eliminate any chance of ambiguity.
#3 Have a trustworthy advisor
Don’t sign anything before letting a reliable third-party consultant review the documents. Emerhub can assist you on this and analyze whether your agreement secures the interests of both parties.
#4 Never embarrass a Bangladeshi
Maintain harmony and don’t do anything that would upset or make your counterpart uncomfortable in any way. Show respect, especially towards elders and government officials, to prevent them from losing face.
#5 Be punctual
Make sure to be on time, but expect your business partners to be late. Being punctual is also a sign of respect that indicates that you take doing business with them seriously.
#6 Respect the culture and Bangladeshi’s way of doing business
Bangladeshis don’t expect you to know all their customs. However, you will be more successful if you show a respectful attitude towards their culture and adapt to their way of doing business.
Bonus tip: Bangladeshis enjoy playing cricket
Cricket is the same in Bangladesh as golf is in the Western business world. Use the opportunity to bond with your associates over a game of cricket.
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