Travel & Expat Lifestyle Magazine

Learning the Business Customs of Kenya


Kenyan business people generally adhere to a particular type of communication, in which they will modify what they say rather then express what they actually mean. They care to keep the relationship with the recipient of the conversation. It is also important to maintain face, especially if they do not know the other person well. Only when the relationship is more established will they begin to use more direct communication. It is common for Kenyans to also speak using metaphors, analogies and sayings that could have hidden meanings, and this can be confusing to outsiders.

It is also expected that foreigners will refrain from being overly direct. People in Kenya may not know how to handle a blunt statement in public. Be humble, and do not seem aggressive. In the business world, Kenyans will control themselves from showing anger or raising their voices.

When first meeting people, handshakes are the standard gesture. People who are just meeting will use short handshakes, but people who know each other well will use long handshakes. Along with shaking hands, if you are greeting someone who has a higher status or is older than you, a way to show respect is to lower your eyes. Expect to take a while getting to know the other person, and ask about their family and background. Rushed greetings are considered impolite, so wait until your Kenyan colleague begins to talk about business.

Note if the other person has any title or doctorate, as you will be expected to acknowledge them that way. Wait to be invited to use first names. Business cards are widely used; they should be exchanged with two hands, but otherwise do not need a formal ritual.

In terms of meetings, some companies adhere to strict agendas, while others do not conduct meetings according to schedules. If the company is owned by British or Indian people, they are likely to use an agenda. Meetings in Kenya hardly ever have a determined ending time.

When you are presenting your material at a meeting, put in some historical facts and stories about your subject. If it is a new idea to them, they want to know how to think of it. This society values tradition, so they like to see that important things have some connected meaning and background. As for dress, people should wear Western-style, dark, conservative suits.


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