Source: World Bank
Direct and frank communication is not the norm in Kenya. Kenyans will always attempt to qualify what they say so that the message is delivered in a sensitive way. This comes down to wanting to protect people’s face and the relationship. If the relationship is intimate the communication style will become more direct. For newly established and more formal relationships, diplomacy will be of utmost importance.
In their attempt not to cause problems, Kenyans often use metaphors, analogies and stories to make a point. They are uncomfortable with blunt statements. If you are from a culture that prizes directness, you may wish to moderate your delivery style. It is also up to you to read between the lines and decipher what may really being said. With this in mind, criticism should be delivered in private and given in a circumspect manner.
Kenyans may gesture for emphasis when speaking. Loud voices are generally only used during disagreements in business situations, although in rural areas, louder speaking tones are the norm. Showing anger is considered a sign of mental instability. Kenyans pride themselves on their emotional control and expect the same in others.
Since maintaining honor and dignity are paramount, Kenyans may offer what they believe is the expected response rather than say something that might embarrass the other person. They often go out of their way to keep from doing something that could bring shame to another person. They expect business colleagues and superiors to inquire about their family before beginning a business discussion.
Meeting and Greeting
• Handshakes are the most common greeting in business.
• When being introduced to someone for the first time, the handshake is short, while handshakes among people with a personal relationship are longer.
• It is a sign of respect to lower your eyes when greeting someone of a higher status or someone who is obviously older than you.
• Men should wait for a woman to extend her and first.
• To rush a greeting is extremely rude. Take the time to inquire about the other person’s general well-being, family, and business in general.
• Titles are important. Use the honorific title plus any academic or professional title and the surname.
• Wait to be invited before moving to a first name basis.
• Business cards are exchanged without formal ritual.
• Present and receive business cards with two hands.
Meeting schedules may be structured or not at all depending upon the ownership of the company. In British or Indian owned companies, agendas will be used and followed.
As relationships are important in Kenya, devote time to small talk in order to get to know your hosts and vice-versa. It is a good idea to allow your Kenyan hosts determine when it is time to begin the business discussion.
Meetings seldom have scheduled ending times since what matters is finishing the meeting in a satisfactory manner to all concerned. In fact, Kenyans are amused at the concept of an ending time, since they believe the meeting only ends when all parties are finished.
Kenyans value tradition. Therefore, it is a good idea to provide a historical framework or context when attempting to introduce a new idea or process. They may ask questions until they feel comfortable and are able to proceed satisfactorily.