GRM 2010 GRM 2011

Abstract Details

Family Name:
First Name:
Tanya Cariina
Title of Paper:
Recalibrating Saudi Communication Styles to Address Foreign and Domestic Labour Concerns
Paper Proposal Text :
Tanya Cariina Hsu

“Recalibrating Saudi Communication Styles to Address Foreign and Domestic Labour Concerns”

Gulf Research Council Meeting 2014

Workshop – ‘Employed Yet Underemployed and Underestimated: Leadership, Ownership and Work Motivation in the Gulf’


Under the Saudisation model, the Saudi population is being asked to embrace a radical shift from habits long formed. Not only must the attitudes towards labour and the workforce reverse course since the recent historical era of ‘big oil’ and its resultant largesse, but the deeper – more ingrained – method of generating results based upon a culture steeped in tradition cannot be overlooked. As we observe today’s enforced Saudisation in an attempt to mitigate Saudi unemployment, we see a quick march towards failure.

Why is this so?

Arab communication styles are unique and Saudi Arabia further stands apart from other Gulf States in this regard. The Arabian habit of not being critical or negative coupled with a reluctance to tackle issues as they arise and in a timely manner, only amplifies an already inherent barrier to solving a twenty-first century problem. Whereas young Saudi professionals understand today’s international standards of workforce communication, the inherent culture nevertheless suppresses any momentum to voice acceptable concerns.

The Saudis have not been able to convey changes to the domestic situation adequately to allay fears by foreign or domestic entities. This has not been helped by their dependence upon Western consultants and advisors whom the Saudis are quick to embrace. This expertise is modelled upon Western societal expectations, norms and timeframes, and does not consider and is not equipped to account for the startling discrepancies in the disparate society they are paid to manage.

The Saudis must learn how to modify their communication styles in order to address unemployment in their fast-moving plan of labour reform, which is contrary to the essence of their ancient customs. Do the Saudis need to look to themselves to prevent losing their own argument for reform, and do they need to restructure their methodology and delivery mechanisms?

Overturning twentieth century behaviours seem to be the focus for changing the workforce dynamic. This paper argues that the roots of this enforced change methodology must be addressed and applied, by examining thousands of years of tradition and conveyance to generate results that are more effective.

From a Bedouin based society to a transformed oil based economy, millions of people were catapulted into the global economy, rudimentary skills to comply enabling success. This was managed effectively due to the reliance on outside labour. Workers were brought in from Asia for manual work, and managers were seduced with heavy compensation packages to not only oversee the process of growth, but also – in effect – act as on-the-spot professors. The Saudis suddenly coped with two skill sets thrust upon them: discarding the old ways of desert life, and being schooled by Westerners in ‘better’ ways. The rapidity of this change is familiar to all Saudi watchers. Now the East fears its workers in the kingdom have been hastily forced aside and their workers abandoned despite decades of loyal employment, and the West worries the Saudis are ‘jumping the gun’ in a policy fraught with dangerous economic consequences. Traditional methodologies coupled with the reliance upon foreign consultants untrained in Arab communication styles will hinder Saudi economic policy guidelines, and lead to scepticism and confusion by non-Saudis as to the future of their investments in the kingdom.

An examination of intercultural communication styles is essential. Addressing ingrained Arab communication styles will enable policymakers to restructure their economic policy guidelines for the future accordingly.