How to make a good first impression in Pakistan
In Pakistan they pride themselves on their tradition of hospitality (mehmanawazi in Urdu, milmastia in Pashtu, puranadari in Punjabi). A greeting of ‘Salam Alaykum’ will be appreciated.
If you are travelling and working outside the big cities like Karachi, Lahore and Islamabad for extended periods, it is advisable to learn some basic Urdu or the appropriate regional language.
Dress correctly and modestly, particularly if you are a woman. Men should not wear shorts. Do not ask after the women in a Pakistani person’s family, just after the family in general. Never point the soles of your feet or shoes at anyone, as this is considered disrespectful. Use your right hand for eating, shaking hands and giving or receiving everything (including money).
Be very careful when discussing Benazir Bhutto; the country was shocked following her assassination. Likewise, be extremely careful when discussing the relationship between Pakistan and India, unless you really know what you are talking about. Pakistanis have a strong sense of ‘face’ and your goal should be harmony and cordial relations, not an instant, heated debate.
10 quick tips on how to do business in Pakistan
- Remember the strength of family ties, and that nepotism is completely acceptable.
- Learn to show respect to older people.
- Understand the importance of Islam in everyday life and work around Fridays, prayer times and religious holidays.
- Due to the prevalence of indirect communication, be careful when agreeing about commitments. Make sure all parties are clear about mutual expectations
- Set generous deadlines for projects and build in contingency time.
- Learn to read between the lines of what somebody says; remember that Pakistanis are indirect communicators and find it difficult to say a straight ‘no’. “I will try” is another way of saying “no”.
- Understand that although gender equality is improving, there is still a long way to go. Men and women will react differently to problem solving, giving feedback and challenging mistakes.
- Do not underestimate the importance of business entertaining. Pakistan’s culture is relationship-based and bonding with your counterpart over lunch or dinner is an important part of the process.
- Pakistanis have a strong sense of honour and national identity. Unfortunately, they also suffer from particularly strong cultural stereotyping. Be very careful not to patronise or jump to conclusions.
- Remember that younger, educated Pakistanis tend to be motivated by cash and short-term gain. Building loyalty to an employer can be difficult.
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