Ghana has represented a departure from many of the social norms that I definitely take for granted back in the United States. Adjusting to a whole new way of navigating life has been exhausting and exhilarating at the same time. An area in which I have been particularly interested in differences in social norms between American and Ghanaian cultures is the expectations surrounding business introductions and business meetings.
There is a predictable and dictated script for how a business interaction occurs here in Ghana. Every business relationship here must begin with an in-person introduction through a mutual party. The host welcomes to guest, water is offers, and pleasantries are exchanged. Only after an appropriate amount of what Americans would call “small talk” can you bring up what you came to talk about. This same protocol seems to apply to the subsequent meetings after the initial introduction as well. Every morning at my service site, the director engages in the standard “how have you been since we last saw each other” conversation with us before beginning. This is in sharp contrast to the American business meeting, where one is expected to jump straight to the point so as not to “waste” anyone’s time and quick emails are exchanged in place of personal interactions.
I think the concept of “wasting time” is key here. The intentionality behind a business introduction here sets the stage for a much more personal way of doing business. Schedules here also seem to be much more fluid. Things might happen at 10am, or they might happen at 3pm. Everything runs a little bit late in comparison to a Western schedule, and everyone rolls with it. When not concerned about “wasting time,” it opens interactions that would otherwise just be about business to become more personal and more understanding. I’ve found it fosters a stronger since of partnership and a greater respect for the other person as you learn a little bit more about each other’s lives each time you meet.
Additional References for Business Etiquette in Ghana: