I arrived late at a business management seminar. The room was bejewelled with the cream of top business people in the country. I felt small when I entered, but the cloak of journalism that I wore gave me confidence.

As the British lady spoke on the podium, I wondered what these top shots sitting at round tables in a posh hotel could learn from her.

Ten minutes later, I realised why they were all listening intently to her. I recognised half the faces there. They were men and women, who were holding senior positions in companies, which have fallen behind in their businesses. In other words, they were not making good profits to please their shareholders.

I was not there to pick at people’s faults or even to learn a few management tricks from the expert speakers. I was only there because I had nothing better to do, and so I had decided to please a PR officer managing the event by turning up.

I was about to leave when the lady at the podium said something that made me stop. She asked the delegates to look at the list of words printed on the slides - words like “professionalism”, “eye contact”, “firm hand shake” and “quick decision making” were important to clinch a business deal.

I saw many in that room feverishly making notes, hanging on every word she said. I scanned the list and wondered why she had not included “honesty” and “human element”.

I waited for another 20 minutes for her to start inviting questions. I was the first one to raise my hand. I am not sure what happened. I was sitting right at the back and I thought she was looking in my direction. But instead, she just waited, or I thought she did, until another man demanded attention. I gave her the benefit of the doubt and waited for the next turn.

She ignored me repeatedly until I gave up. The man next to me said maybe I should move to a table in the front. Instead, I moved out of the room and towards the parking space.  The theme of the seminar was right, but the delivery was wrong.

In the Gulf, what “clinches the deal” is the way you hold the coffee cup, and the way you decline more coffee by gently shaking the cup.

Europeans, who live here, respect these cultural rituals, though they don’t necessarily accept the so-called “disgusting” ones. Understanding local cultures and heritage pave the way to business agreements in a big way when a local man is the decision-maker and has to choose between two people.

I remember, when I started out as a reporter, a senior company executive flatly refused to give me information just because I did not pray in the mosque near my house - the one he worshipped in. For many, it was an absurdity, but it is the way it works here.

Good professionalism provides sound business background, but so does a dagger with a strong stem, but lacking sharpness. You can hold it as a decorative piece, but cannot carve out the choicest meat.

A palm on the chest when you apologise might be just a gesture, but it may touch the heart of your potential business partner.

I am still surprised about all those complaints how hard it is to make business, perhaps anywhere in the world, when all one has to do is to learn about the local cultures.

    The writer is an Oman-based freelance columnist. This article has been reproduced from the Khaleej Times.