WORKING ABROAD / JUL. 10, 2014
version 5, draft 5

How to Master Business Etiquette in Uganda

If you travel a lot for work, then you know that local customs can vary by race, religion and country. It’s dangerous to visit a foreign country without researching the culture. You might inadvertently offend the natives, and present yourself badly. Familiarity with etiquette is especially important in business settings. If you’re offensive, your host may abruptly end all negotiations. 

Therefore, if you’re planning an upcoming trip to Uganda, it’s imperative that you understand business etiquette rules. 

Business and Meetings

  • A handshake is the appropriate greeting in business settings. Men should wait for women to extend their hand. If a female doesn’t extend her hand, males can nod their head or bow. 
  • Title such as Mr. or Mrs. are acceptable, and are usually followed by a surname. Last names include a traditional tribal name and a Christian name.
  • Small talk is customary before getting down to business. Be prepared for introductory conversations, and it’s okay to ask about family and backgrounds. Business relationships are built over time.
  • Ugandan business people are sticklers for protocol when giving a speech. Speeches are conservative and informal, and preceded by greetings and acknowledgments.
  • Business decisions are made by a group, and because Ugandan business people seek external advice, it can take a while to reach a decision.
  • When negotiating, Ugandans will mirror your approach. Therefore, if you’re flexible, they will respond in kind.
  • Punctuality is important in business settings. However, it is okay for senior members of a company to arrive late to meetings or events. 
  • Ugandans communicate indirectly. They may use stories and proverbs to express a point. Although humour is acceptable, sarcasm can be easily misunderstood, and should be avoided.
  • Most business people in Uganda speak English.
  • Dress conservative when attending a business meeting at a restaurant or home. 

Business Cards

There are no rituals surrounding the giving of business cards. However, you should treat a business card with respect.

Business Attire

Ugandans who dress well are respected. Formal attire is customary in business settings. This includes a suit for men and women. In rural areas, males may wear a collared shirt and pants. For women, revealing or tight clothing is inappropriate. Women should also limit accessories; and if working in a rural area, skirts should fall below the knee.

Being sensitive to other cultures can take you further in the business world. It might take time to fully grasp business etiquette in Uganda; but with sincere effort, you can adjust to local customs. 

 

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