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Business Etiquettes in Nigeria

Meeting & Greeting

Business travellers will find Nigeria a country of contrasts, with many Westernised elements as well as indigenous cultures. In the cities, traditional practices do not usually stand in the way of business. English is widely spoken, and Nigerians are generally friendly.

Handshakes are the most common greeting but do wait for a woman to extend her hand first. Shake hands at the beginning and end of meetings.

To rush a greeting is extremely rude; spend time inquiring about the other person’s general well-being. It is a good idea to lower your eyes when meeting someone who is older or more senior.

Titles are important. Use the honorific title plus any academic or professional title and the surname. Wait until invited before moving to a first-name basis. This is not a first name culture, although that may be changing with people under the age of 35.

Communication Style

Due to the ethnic make-up of the country, communication styles vary. In the southwest, where the people are from the Yoruba tribe, people’s communication employs proverbs, sayings and even songs to enrich the meaning of what they say. This is especially true when speaking their native language, although many of the same characteristics have been carried into their English language usage. The Yoruba often use humour to prevent boredom during long meetings or serious discussions. They believe that embedding humour in their message guarantees that what they say is not readily forgotten.

Nigerians living in the south of the country tend to speak more directly. You may also find their tone slightly louder than elsewhere. They may raise their voices even more and become emotionally excited when they feel passionately about a topic. At the same time, a harsh tone is considered unwelcoming and even hostile. Nigerians prefer facial expressions that imply empathy and believe an indifferent facial expression indicates that a person is ignorant or obnoxious.

Generally speaking, Nigerians are outgoing and friendly. Communication commences with polite inquiries into the welfare of the person and his family. Such social niceties go a long way since. Therefore, foreigners who take the time to get to know the Nigerian as a person are considered friends and welcomed into a Nigerian’s inner circle of family and close friends.

Nigerian communication can also be indirect and may rely on non-verbal cues. Many use gestures when communicating. They may smile to mask their true feelings, especially when disappointed or confused. Many employ indirect eye contact to demonstrate their respect for the other person. It is common to gaze at the forehead or shoulders of someone they do not know well. Very direct eye contact may be interpreted as being intrusive unless there is a longstanding personal relationship.

At the same time, there are some Nigerians who are extremely direct communicators and have no difficulty stating what is on their minds. Therefore, it is a good idea to observe the situation carefully before determining what behaviour is appropriate.

In general, Nigerians start with the general idea and slowly move into the specific, often using a somewhat circuitous route. Their logic is often contextual. They look for the rationale behind behaviour and attempt to understand the context. They tend to examine behaviour in its total context, not merely what they have observed.

Business Meeting

To save time, have a local contact or an intermediary schedule business meetings and make arrangements. Meetings should be scheduled three months in advance, especially if they will involve government officials.

Punctuality is expected of visitors, but visitors should not expect the same from their hosts. Government officials may be late or even reschedule the meeting for the next day. Visitors should not be annoyed if their hosts do not keep to a schedule – it is not meant to be disrespectful.

Nigerians prefer to develop personal relationships prior to conducting business. Therefore, if this is the first time you are meeting with a Nigerian company, you should expect to devote a decent period of time to getting to know people on a personal level. This may take as long as two hours for an initial meeting. Any attempt to bypass this protocol will hamper your business success.

Expect the first few meetings to be somewhat formal as your Nigerian counterparts continue to become comfortable with you as a person. It is a good idea to maintain a polite and somewhat reserved manner until the person you are meeting drops some of his formality. Try to avoid using hyperbole or making exaggerated claims when presenting a business case as Nigerians are naturally suspicious of a deal that sounds too good to be true.

Team members should present a united front at meetings. Any disagreement between members will be interpreted as meaning that you are not relaying the entire story and that they should proceed cautiously.
If you plan to work from an agenda, it is a good idea to send it in advance of the meeting. Nigerians will generally follow the agenda point by point and may want to consult with key stakeholders who will not be present prior to the meeting.

In all business meetings, visitors should sit and stand in a formal manner. It is not polite to touch people in such situations. In other situations, a friendly pat on the back is an indication of friendship. Do not use a finger to beckon to someone to come near or to leave.

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