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Global Connections

When yes means maybe: Doing business in Nigeria

By Susannah Palk for CNN
  • Dean Foster is the author of "The Global Etiquette Guide to Africa"
  • Foster believes the key to success in Nigeria depends on your contacts and commitment
  • Providing a tip or "dash" for services, including the processing of official documents, is normal

London, England (CNN) -- In a business culture where negotiations are fluid and what's agreed on Monday might not necessary mean the same thing on Tuesday, how do you get the job done?

It's a challenge some foreigners encounter when doing business in Nigeria.

However, things don't have to be difficult explains Dean Foster, president of the cross-cultural training company Dean Foster Associates and author of "The Global Etiquette Guide to Africa."

According to Foster, as long as you understand the cultural etiquette, doing business in Nigeria can offer vast opportunities. But, he says, success comes down two key factors: contacts and commitment.

"The bottom line is that you cannot expect to go into Nigeria, make the deal, turn around, walk out and expect things to go as planned," Foster told CNN.

You'll build friendships and relationships that will last a life
--Dean Foster, author of "The Global Etiquette Guide to Africa."

"If you're committed to business in Nigeria you have to know that you're entering an environment that requires your constant attention and constant renegotiation. Adaptability and flexibility on your part is key," he continued.

Knowing the right person is also fundamental, according to Foster, who says personal relationships are often more important than regulations and laws. It's something, he warns, many outsiders may feel uncomfortable with.

"You have to be wary of the old tradition of 'dash,' which in Nigeria essentially means putting money in the hands of an individual," he said.

"It is of course in many respects illegal, but it is still quite a common convention. And the degree to which you, as a business person, want to co-operate with this will determine to a great degree the success you have in Nigeria."

But despite the challenges, Foster is adamant business in Nigeria can be a rewarding experience -- and not just financially.

"The people are fantastic -- you realize that the social networks and relationships you put so some much energy and time into, are in fact is part of the great reward. You'll build friendships and relationships that will last a life," he told CNN.

Dean Foster's top five tips for doing business in Nigeria.

1. Agreeing with people is considered to be a sign of respect. Nigerians generally say "yes" to a request because their respect for you does not allow them to say "no."

2. Among traditional Nigerian business people, an appointment is rarely private. Try not to be irritated if your meeting is interrupted by phone calls and/or visits from your client's friends and family.

3. Do not eat everything on your plate; leaving some food is a signal that you have had enough. If you clean your plate, you are indicating that you want more food.

4. Nigerians tend to stand close to each other while speaking. If you are uncomfortable conversing at this distance, try to refrain from backing up.

5. Nigerians are good bargainers, and you should expect to bargain and compromise in the marketplace and at the negotiating table.