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Trainer Tips Working in the Middle East 5

Part Five

Media Misdemeanours in the Middle East

Recently I have been developing a competency framework for a large telecoms provider in the Middle East and was interviewing middle managers who occupied a range of roles. One manager was involved in marketing the organisations products and services. An aspect of our conversation focused on advertising and the challenge of appealing to a variety of market segments in an environment where cultural taboos impose strict rules on what can and cannot be shown in public.

The conversation provided a useful reminder of those social and cultural taboos, and of the importance of carefully selecting media for events in the region that is appropriate for the culture and conducive to learning.

It would be irresponsible to recycle a set of slides, a workbook or learning aids that you have used previously and expect them to be as effective as a learning aid and suitable for the culture.

Visual Media

Although we cannot generalise about Middle Eastern cultures there are some similarities in the rules for appropriateness of eye contact.

Middle Eastern Muslim cultures have strict rules connected to religious laws about appropriateness regarding eye contact between the sexes. Only a brief moment of eye contact would be permitted between a man and a woman, if at all. Avoid media that shows prolonged eye contact between the sexes. Female western consultants should also be aware that their appearance is different and this can attract male attention in the form of eye contact, however, returning eye contact, can be considered the same as saying, “Yes, I’m interested!”

The Islamic culture is very conservative. Showing any skin other than the face, hands or feet can be considered sexually arousing, carefully select images that demonstrate respect for your audience’s preferences. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking sophisticated places such as Dubai will be more conservative. While Dubai itself is quite liberal your delegates may have different views and standards.

There can also be issues with images of animals. Although many people keep and love dogs, they are kept outside because they are considered dirty, an image of a fish is related to Christianity. Images of pigs may be offensive due to references in the Quran about the flesh of swine and prohibition of pork consumption in Islamic law.

Culture also plays a role in the visual design and layout of instructional materials. Choice of language, the use of signs and symbols and the layout all affect how a learner interprets and uses instructional materials. When designing culturally appropriate materials take into account layout, images, symbols, colour and sound in order to fully acknowledge cultural influences Design in the western world is based on reading from left to right. Societies that read from right to left may be at a disadvantage when faced with western design, leave plenty of margin space for notes on both the left and right of the page, and be aware that symbols are not universally understood, for example using arrows > meaning next or go to the next page , is not universal, the thumbs up sign can have negative connotations. Do check that phrases and metaphors are meaningful for global readers; the phrase “everyman for himself” may be considered highly offensive in a collectivist culture where belonging to a formal or informal group is important.

During November I have been working with a large retailer who is setting up an expansive operation in the Middle East. While coaching the store managers who will relocate to various countries it became apparent that they had overlooked the country of origin on product ranges that are made in Israel. Using images of products that have Israeli associations should be avoided.

Use of Online Content

Internet Access in the Middle-East can be different from the western world because it's filtered, blocking access to various parts of the Internet based on political, religious, economic or cultural values. Social media platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, flickr, and YouTube have caught the attention of the cyber police, who have the authority to block or filter content from these sites. A study by the research group Open Net Initiative on internet content control claims the countries that practice the highest amount of political filtering are, Iran, Bahrain, Syria and Tunisia, while “social filters” can mainly be found in the Gulf and include Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia.

If you plan to use content from the internet be aware:
  • Social networking and picture/video sites may be blocked
  • Websites visited today, may be blocked tomorrow
  • Your travel website could be blocked because of forbidden content in the form of images
  • Websites updates show only after a while due to local evaluation of content
  • Main stream websites are self censored and deliver different content locally
  • Filtering makes internet access slow
  • Some Google search phrases are blocked
  • Skype services can be blocked by regulators if considered a threat to national security

If you have opportunity to work in the Middle East, I recommend that you pack a huge amount of patience, your natural curiosity, a smile and several good quality travel adaptors, the cheaper alternatives quite often fry!

Contributor Profile

Joy Wilson

Joy Wilson.Joy has enjoyed working in the Middle East and North Africa in commercial organisations and sustainable development projects. With over 10 year’s experience of developing competency based initiatives and designing bespoke training and development solutions. Joy is an experienced and enthusiastic trainer with a huge amount of practical knowledge about working in the region.

Click here to view Joy’s profile

If your organisation is planning to expand to the Middle East and you feel a little apprehensive about the readiness of your team for multicultural working.

You may like to consider the “Working in a World of Difference” cross cultural development programme, combined with The International Profiler cultural assessment your employees will explore and receive feedback on 22 different attitude, knowledge and skill dimensions, required for international and multi-cultural working.

Contributor: Joy Wilson

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