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Cultural Considerations in Business

Discover how cultural norms impact business and employment in Eritrea

Communication styles in the workplace

In Eritrea, understanding communication styles is crucial for success in any professional setting. The rich cultural heritage of the country presents a unique landscape for workplace interactions.


Eritrean communication leans towards directness. People tend to be blunt and assertive in conveying their message. This directness stems from a cultural emphasis on honesty and efficiency. However, it can be misconstrued as rudeness by those unfamiliar with the style. For instance, an Eritrean manager might directly point out areas for improvement in your work rather than offering vague suggestions.


Eritrean work culture leans towards formality, especially in initial interactions or with superiors. Titles are used extensively, and addressing someone as "Mr./Ms./Dr. Last Name" is common. This formality reflects respect for hierarchy and authority. For example, a new employee might address their director as "Director [Last Name]" until a closer working relationship develops.

Non-Verbal Cues

Eritreans place significant value on non-verbal cues to understand the true meaning behind words. These cues can include:

  • Body Language: Maintaining eye contact shows respect, while looking away might indicate disagreement or a lack of confidence. Standing tall and firm handshakes convey authority.
  • Facial Expressions: A furrowed brow or pursed lips could indicate disapproval, even if words are direct. A relaxed posture and smile suggest openness to communication.
  • Silence: Silence is often used for contemplation and formulating a response. It's important to avoid filling pauses and allow time for thoughtful replies.

Additional Considerations

  • Respect for Elders: Eritrean culture places a high value on respecting elders and those in positions of authority. Demonstrating deference through respectful language and body language is important.
  • Indirect Criticism: While communication is generally direct, criticism might be delivered indirectly to avoid causing offense. Pay attention to the overall tone and body language to understand the full message.

Negotiation practices

Negotiation is a fundamental aspect of business dealings in Eritrea. The typical approaches, strategies, and cultural norms are direct and assertive, reflecting the general communication style in the country. Parties present their positions clearly and expect the same from counterparts. This directness can sometimes lead to heated discussions. However, Eritrean negotiators might view emotional exchanges as part of the process rather than a sign of disrespect.

Negotiation Approaches

Long-term relationships are valued in Eritrea, and building trust is crucial. Negotiations might involve social interactions outside of formal meetings to foster rapport.

Negotiation Strategies

Eritrean negotiations can be lengthy processes. Eritrean negotiators may take time to consider offers and consult with a wider circle of stakeholders before reaching a decision. It's important to demonstrate the value proposition of your offer and how it aligns with Eritrea's needs. Facts, figures, and data carry weight in Eritrean negotiations. Be persistent in advocating for your position, but maintain a respectful tone throughout the process.

Cultural Influences

Eritrean society emphasizes collectivism, where group goals take precedence over individual achievements. Negotiators may represent the interests of a collective entity, such as a family or business group. Eritrea scores high on power distance in Hofstede's framework, indicating a culture that accepts unequal distribution of power. Negotiation teams may have a clear hierarchy, with senior members playing a more prominent role.

Building Trust and Relationships

Building trust and demonstrating a genuine interest in a long-term partnership are paramount throughout the negotiation process. This, coupled with a well-prepared value proposition and respectful persistence, will increase your chances of securing a successful outcome in Eritrea.

Understanding hierarchical structures

Eritrean businesses are characterized by hierarchical structures, which significantly influence decision-making, team dynamics, and leadership styles.

A Pyramid of Authority

In Eritrean businesses, a tall hierarchy model is often followed, with clear distinctions between upper management, middle management, and frontline employees. Decision-making authority rests with senior leaders, and information flows through established channels. This emphasis on hierarchy reflects a cultural preference for high power distance, a concept from Geert Hofstede's cultural dimensions theory, where societies accept unequal distribution of power.

Impact on Decision-Making

The focus on hierarchy can slow down decision-making processes. Information must travel up the chain of command before reaching those with final say. This can be frustrating for employees who might prefer a more participative approach.

Team Dynamics

Teamwork exists in Eritrean businesses, but it functions within the hierarchical framework. Teams are likely to be led by a designated supervisor who reports to upper management. Employees may be less likely to directly challenge a supervisor's decisions. This aligns with collectivism, another Hofstede dimension, where group goals and harmony take precedence over individual achievements.

Leadership Styles

Eritrean leadership styles tend to be paternalistic. Leaders are seen as figures of authority who provide guidance and direction. Transformational leadership, which emphasizes inspiring and motivating employees, is less common. This leadership style reflects the cultural emphasis on respect for authority and established structures.

Challenges and Considerations

While hierarchical structures offer stability and clear lines of responsibility, they can also stifle creativity and innovation. Empowering employees and fostering open communication can lead to a more dynamic and adaptable work environment.

A Changing Landscape

Eritrea's economy is undergoing transformations. Some businesses, particularly those with younger leadership, might be experimenting with more collaborative structures. However, the hierarchical approach remains dominant in many workplaces.

Understanding the Context

As you navigate the Eritrean business world, it's crucial to understand the specific company culture. Some businesses might be more open to innovative ideas, while others may adhere to a stricter hierarchical approach.

Holidays and observances affecting business operations

Eritrea, a nation rich in tradition, observes numerous holidays that can impact business operations. Understanding these holidays is crucial for smooth business transactions.

Statutory Holidays

Eritrea's statutory holidays, as outlined in the Eritrean Labor Proclamation (Proclamation No. 31/1997), entitle employees to paid leave. These holidays include:

  • New Year's Day (January 1st): The start of the year is marked with celebrations and public gatherings. Businesses are typically closed.
  • May Day (May 1st): This day celebrates International Workers' Day. Government offices and most businesses close for the day.
  • Martyrs' Day (June 20th): This solemn day commemorates Eritrean martyrs who fell during the struggle for independence. Businesses may have adjusted hours or close entirely.
  • Independence Day (May 24th): This national holiday celebrates Eritrea's independence. Government offices, banks, and most businesses close, with public celebrations taking place.
  • Revolution Day (September 1st): This day commemorates the start of the armed struggle for independence. Government offices and many businesses close.

Religious Holidays

Eritrea has a multi-faith society with both Christian and Muslim majorities. Religious holidays are not statutory holidays, but they can significantly impact business operations. Major holidays include:

  • Christmas (December 25th): Celebrated by Eritrean Christians, with potential business closures or reduced hours.
  • Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha: Islamic holidays marking the end of Ramadan and the Festival of Sacrifice, respectively. Businesses owned and operated by Muslims may close or have adjusted hours during these periods.

Regional Observances

Eritrea participates in some regional observances that can affect business operations:

  • African Union Day (May 25th): This day celebrates the founding of the African Union. Government offices may close.

Eritreans place a high value on their cultural heritage and traditions. Respecting these holidays and observances demonstrates cultural sensitivity and can contribute to successful business operations.

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