Decision-making in South Africa

South Africa – most people initially think about Cape Town, heat and wild animals. But did you also know that South Africa has evolved into one of the most important industrialized nations on the continent? In today’s blog post, we’d like to address this exotic country and explain to you how decisions are made there and how this can affect your business.

As you presumably already know, the establishment and maintenance of professional relationships plays a significant role in long-term success in African business. If you’ve already established a relationship and find yourself at the point where you’re waiting on a decision from a South African business partner, you should show patience. Making decisions often takes a long time in South Africa, and it follows certain rules, which we’d like to explain to you below.

Decisions = group work

While supervisors often make decisions alone in many cultures, things are a little different in South Africa. There, decisions are most often made in groups consisting of close family members and/or experts from a variety of fields. It’s not uncommon for age to play an important role, as those of advanced ages have more experience and thus more knowledge, which should be respected according to South African culture. But how exactly does the decision-making process take place?

As soon as all the relevant people have gathered, a short introduction round follows, whereby the older among those present mostly guide the discussion. Those present then address the issue at hand, consider it from a variety of perspectives, discuss it, weigh the cross-cultural training South Africa, cross-cultural training, South Africa, decisions, decision-making, consensus, age, timepros and cons, contribute thoughts and different experiences and recommend future approaches. This can take anywhere from a few hours to several weeks. In the next step, additional deliberations take place with other managers and/or more distant family members whose competency is also appreciated.

When all deliberations have come to an end, it’s time for the decision. What’s important to note is that all participants have to agree with it. Consensus is the magic word [also called “indaba”], and it’s crucial for harmonic cooperation.

Negotiations, business dinners and businesswomen

Apart from this idiosyncrasy, the following tips could also be relevant for your interaction with South African business partners:

  • Before entering negotiations with your South African business partner, you should establish mutual trust. Since this is a necessary foundation for all business activities, it can open a lot of doors to you. Also refrain from “mean” negotiation tactics when negotiating, and bring realistic numbers to the table. This comes across much better in South Africa.
  • If you’re a woman doing business in South Africa, keep in mind that there are comparatively few women in leading positions there. It’s thus possible that some people won’t think you’re capable of the same level of performance as your male colleagues. Please don’t let it get to you!
  • Food plays an important role in South African business. Appointments for lunch, dinner or even breakfast are not uncommon. Adapt to this whenever possible!

As you can see, there are certain peculiarities to keep in mind when doing business in South Africa. Of course, this also applies to a number of other target countries – among them China, India, France, England and Poland – whose cultural peculiarities are often underestimated. At the following link, you’ll find an overview of our offerings.


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About Sophie Humpisch

I studied business communication and cross-cultural competence. During my studies I lived abroad for a long time and therefore experienced cross-cultural differences on my own. I have been with Eidam & Partner since 2014, being responsible for the support and recruiting of cross-cultural experts. Eidam & Partner offers worldwide services related to cross-cultural communication, such as cross-cultural training, cross-cultural coaching, eLearning and preparation for international assignments for more than 80 target countries.
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