10 tips on how to make a good impression when working with Kenyans

Sociability is everything to Kenyans. Learn how to greet people respectfully and take time to chat. Do not be surprised or offended if complete strangers strike up a conversation. Accept all invitations of hospitality and return them. If you play golf, a round on a top course is one of the most popular ways of networking.

Kenyans revere age and seniority, so show suitable deference to the elderly, and to senior people in the workplace. Emphasise your own seniority and experience to make a good impression.

Respect Kenyans’ attitude to time. Everything happens more slowly here and life is more relaxed. Deadlines need a lot of leeway. Think twice before asking workers to come in early or stay late; many people have an extremely long commute and family time is important.

Visitors in Kenya tend to be seen as unbelievably wealthy and in reality, in contrast to local people, they often are. If you are invited to a Harambee, an informal fundraiser used by families and communities to generate funds to put a young person through college, for example, or to pay for a wedding, you are expected to accept the invitation, turn up and make a donation.

Top 10 essentials when working with Kenyans

  1. Networking is everything in Kenya and it is very important to work business connections. Attend networking events, get local contacts to make introductions and if you can, get out onto the golf course, one of the best places for doing business.
  2. Strong eye contact and a firm handshake are seen as signs of honesty and sincerity. If you see someone you know on the street, it is essential that you stop and greet them and enquire after their family.
  3. Kenyans are extremely hospitable and even the poorest family will share food with a visitor. It is important to show your appreciation and to return the favour.
  4. Kenyans have little concern about personal space and will happily jostle together in a crowd, striking up conversations with strangers.
  5. Kenyans place great value on the right to speak and during any conversation or meeting everybody is expected to be allowed to have their say. Interrupting is considered extremely rude. This does not, however, mean that any Kenyan given the floor will be brief; people have a love of storytelling and every Kenyan enjoys an audience.
  6. Great value is placed on education and families will go to great lengths to enable their children to get a university degree. Nobody takes this expense for granted and a strong work ethic is acquired at school and continued in any Kenyan’s career.
  7. Kenya is a strongly patriarchal society, geared around the father figure, whether this is a father in the family, a boss in the workplace or a political leader. Jomo Kenyatta, the founder of the nation, is deeply revered and his descendants continue to occupy prominent positions in society today.
  8. Kenyans love food and mealtimes are for enjoying the fare and later, for conversation. Business entertaining is commonplace.
  9. Kenyans are enthusiastic and skilled negotiators in every walk of life, from buying fruit in the market to securing a major business deal. A win-win situation of any transaction is desired.
  10. However tough negotiations seem and however many concessions you have to make, business is business and friends are friends, so the relationship is expected to return to normal after a deal has been struck.

 

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About the Author

Sue Bryant

Sue Bryant is an award-winning writer and editor specialising in global business culture and travel.

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