Business Etiquette In Ethiopia: 10 Tips For Travelers

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When conducting business in Ethiopia, it’s important to understand local customs and etiquette. If you’re not familiar with the preferred way of doing things, you could inadvertently come off as rude. In part three of our series on business etiquette in Africa, we give you 10 essential tips for business etiquette in Ethiopia, with inspiration from and

Greet colleagues with a light handshake and eye contact

In Ethiopia, when you shake someone’s hand upon greeting, you should make direct eye contact — but that should be the only assertive part of the interaction. The handshake itself should be a bit lighter than it would be in the U.S. Also, handshakes are a bit longer in duration in Ethiopia than they are in the western world.

Greet business associates with the proper title

Whether meeting someone in a social or business setting, address the person with his or her honorific title — Governor, Officer, Professor, Mr. Mrs. etc. — followed by their last name.

Bow to those with seniority

It is customary in Ethiopia to bow to someone who holds a more senior position than you, as well as to anyone who is older than you.

Keep gifts modest

If you do bring a business associate a gift, make sure it isn’t lavish or expensive. In Ethiopia, giving someone an expensive gift can be seen as a way to try to embarrass, manipulate or even exert power over them.

There’s no touching between the sexes

Generally speaking, males and females do not touch, even in a business setting. So if you’re meeting with a business associate of the opposite sex you aren’t expected to shake hands, and could even make someone uncomfortable by trying to do so.

Don’t rush the greeting

Never rush the initial greeting—as a sign of respect, be sure to ask about the other person’s family, health and personal matters.

Business cards are given out casually

Unlike in Japan, Ethiopians don’t have an elaborate ritual around handing over and inspecting each others business cards; they are just given out casually. Accept someone’s business card either with your right hand only, or with both hands.

Speak softly

Ethiopians generally speak in soft tones when doing business. Speaking loudly can be read as aggressive. Ethiopians try to maintain a humble tone while doing business and respect others when they do the same.

Have fun with language

Ethiopians like to use elaborate terms and phrases to make a point and respect others when they use metaphor, allusion, or witty innuendos.

Don’t make any plans soon after your meeting

Business meetings in Ethiopia don’t usually have a set ending time. In business, Ethiopians would rather make sure all matters are thoroughly worked out before leaving, rather than rushing through an important issue just so they can break for dinner. It’s best not to make plans for after your business meeting, because you don’t know when it will end. Also, always let the person hosting the meeting begin it, lead it, and end it.


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