Doing business in Nigeria: overcoming cultural challenges

Energy and physical stamina are personal characteristics that tend to be associated with power. Based on their physical appearance, Nigerians could be compared to US basketball players. This feature can be intimidating, and especially so when it comes along with a loud voice. In fact, Nigerians describe themselves as “loud and proud.” This is one of the cultural challenges when doing business in Nigeria, one of the next high-growth markets. Appearances may be deceptive, however, as the following illustrates:

A Nigerian business leader told me: “Most people don’t understand Nigerians. They think that we shout, because our voice is unusually loud. If you meet a Nigerian in a meeting you’ll think he’s shouting. He’s not shouting: he’s just passionate about what he’s saying. You might think that he’s shouting at you, but he’s not. A lot of Nigerians are loud, the same way Indians nod their heads.”

Nigerians may appear as if fighting when they are not
Nigerians may appear as if fighting when they are not

Indeed, I have witnessed very passionate conversations among them: had I not known they were all friends just exchanging perspectives on political issues, I would have thought they were having a serious argument.

At the same time, they know this may play in their favor. Another Nigerian businessman told me, pointing at his throat: “I know that my strength is in my voice. If I lose it, I’m in trouble.”

So when doing business with Nigerians it’s worth bearing in mind that, on the one hand they are probably not as intimidating as they might appear, but on the other, they may rely on their physical appearance to maintain the upper hand – skilled bargainers that they are.

Any experiences in dealing with Nigerians?

Incidentally, we have a number of Nigerian and Kenyan Executive MBA students visiting IESE this week.

4 thoughts on “Doing business in Nigeria: overcoming cultural challenges

  1. is there a need to shout to make a point, its not the pitch of your voice that wins an argument byt the logic of your argument. i believe the shouting of the nigerians can be traced to something that happened during the colonial days

  2. The analogy that the shout of a Nigerian compares to the nodding of heads of the Indians perfectly describes why we Nigerians shout. Especially the Yorubas’, but largely growing up in Lagos also contributes to it greatly. Partly because of the lifestyle here.

    1. Hi Joseph, yes it’s very cultural… I think it’s good for outsiders to know it’s just something common and not necessarily meant to be agressive.

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