Behavior and Etiquette – Official and Business Meetings: Part 2

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The greatest impediment to conducting business is most likely to be the language barrier and the highly complex social structure related to clan and tribal relations.  As a result, an interpreter who understands both the language and the unique Afghan tribal culture is essential to the successful conduct of official business.  When possible, interpreters should be of similar age to the Afghan leaders with whom you are meeting. Rank appropriate behavior is expected. Leaders should not be too jovial.  They should not perform menial tasks (distribution of supplies, food or other items).  Orders should be issued quietly and followed without question.  This establishes true leadership in the eyes of Afghans.  Anything less undermines the leader’s credibility. 

jirgaSenior ranking family, tribe and clan members expect to interact with senior ranking members of the group with whom they are dealing.   It is usually important for Afghans to know who the leader is. At business related meetings, stand when others enter and wait to be seated.  There is strict protocol as related to tribal leaders and elders.  Speak only when spoken to and do not discuss anything specific until refreshments and small talk have been offered.  Be sure to inquire as to how things are going in their lives. Greeting everyone, starting with the leaders, elders and seniors is important. Weapons are not normally carried by attendees and participants at a jirga, a tribal or community council.  However, it is not uncommon for more junior personnel to mind the weapons and serve on perimeter guard duty during the jirga.  NOTE:  Observation of cultural norms does NOT trump Rules of Engagement!

Be patient. When an issue is initially raised during a jirga or other official meeting, it will rarely be resolved then and there.  If an Afghan leader’s mind is changed on an issue, he may not want to acknowledge this immediately.  Afghans will want to consider all sides and time will be taken to ensure no one loses face in the decision making process.  Time is the one thing there is an abundance of in Afghanistan; time to meet, time to discuss, time to consider. 

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