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About Bangladesh

by: Walter Jahn, Associate partner of Hofstede Insights
Currency      Taka (BDT)                                          
Capital          Dhaka                                              
Time Zone    UTC+06:00

In this profile our experts have compiled important information for you to start doing business in Bangladesh. The country profiles are meant as general introduction and are linked to other documents on the platform that go into the details of each culture.
 

Overview

Bangladesh (meaning Bengal country) was founded in 1971 of what was formerly the eastern part of Pakistan, which itself become independent in 1947 after British India was partitioned into India and Pakistan. Geographically and culturally the area of Bangladesh is part of what is known as Bengal with a history of 4000 years. The western part, mostly populated by Hindus, constitutes the Indian state of West Bengal. Bangladesh covers the eastern part of Bengal with a predominantly Muslim population. Because of this shared history, many cultural similarities can be observed across Bangladesh, India, and Pakistan.

Bangladesh is a parliamentary democracy and administratively divided into 8 divisions. The official language is Bangla or Bengali and English is widely spoken in business and government, and generally in urban areas.

In Bangladesh society high deference to power holders prevails. Hence, organisational structures in all public and private spheres reflect top-down decision making. People have a strong group orientation, which shows in the importance of family affiliation. As an individual one shows loyalty towards other family members and this is reciprocated. Strict rules and rituals are generally appreciated and help to reduce ambiguity and a prevailing sense of uncertainty. Bangladesh is a restraint society, not to follow one's desires but rather refrain from any kind of indulgence. In sum, the image of a pyramid would adequately describe these cultural traits in one single image.
 

Some cornerstones of Bangladeshi culture

Approximately 89% of Bangladeshi are Muslim (mostly Sunni) and the remaining population is Hindu, Buddhist or Christian. Although Islam is the state religion, all faiths are equally recognised.

When planning a business trip to Bangladesh and making appointments, observe religious festivals, the dates of which may vary according to the lunar calendar.
 
Bangladeshi identify first and foremost as members of their families and the interest of the family will be of prime consideration also in business life.

Bangladeshi society is patriarchal and women are generally subordinate and deferential to men, in particular within a family context. Yet, gender equality is highest as compared to other South Asian countries.  As is common in hierarchical cultures, people are respected for their position and age.
 
Knowing people, including business partners personally and spending considerable time in building up relationships, is very important in order to be able to judge people and create trust.

Generally, discourse between people is conducted in a polite manner as maintaining a harmonious atmosphere is very important. Therefore, conversations contain a lot of positive statements and criticism or unpleasant information is avoided.

Here are guidelines for behaviour in a fairly wide range of situations when among Bangladeshi.
 

Behaviour when in Bangladesh

  • Give greeting due attention and ask about the well-being and if appropriate about the family. Greeting is not a fleeting gesture.
  • Verbal greeting: 'Salam Aleikum' and as a response 'Wa Aleikum'
  • Maintain a friendly attitude
  • Show respect at all times and situations
  • Keep your posture and temper in difficult situations
  • In business be punctual, for social occasions be a little late, say 15 minutes
  • Remove your shoes when entering a home
  • Generally, if you are not sure, watch what others are doing

Body language

  • Men greet men with a light handshake.
  • Women may greet each other with a hug and kiss. However, in business as a female visitor let the female counterparts make the first move. Normally, women do not shake hands with men.
  • To beckon someone, motion downwards with the palm of your hand (widely practiced in Asia). Avoid pointing a finger at a person you wish to speak to.
  • Be careful with eye-contact, it is considered an invasion of space and avoided between men and woman beyond a cursory look.
  • Do not wink or whistle (as it could be understood as sexual advances)
  • Accept business cards with the right hand and read it with attention when given.

Dress code

  • Generally fairly conservative; dress soberly
  • For women, cover body in loose clothing. Avoid tight and revealing clothes. For Bangladeshi women the sari or the shalwar kameez are the most popular dresses. For visiting holy places women wear a headscarf.
  • In business, formal dress is recommended, for men a dark-coloured suit and for women a suit with blouse.

Good to know

  • Friday is the weekly holiday, and many offices are also closed on Saturday. During the month of Ramadan working hours are reduced and business trips to Bangladesh are better not scheduled.
  • Islamic holidays follow the lunar calendar, which vary by date so please check before travelling. Eid ul-Fitr and Eid ul-Adhha are the most important Muslim festivals, for Hindus it is Durga Puja.
  • For Muslims drinking alcohol is prohibited. Non-Muslims can order alcohol in licensed restaurants and hotels.
  • Kabaddi, cricket and football are the most popular sports. Kabaddi is a regional sport played in South Asia.
     
Keywords to describe Bangladesh culture:
 
Family, Hierarchy, Relationships, Status

 

 

 

Doing business in Bangladesh is challenging. Here you will find practical advice on what one should or should not do.

Experts Recommendation 

First contact

  • Given the importance of hierarchy, first meetings or negotiations should be done by the CEO on both sides. This is important to build up a trusted business relationship. As a follow up, experts can discuss details on their level.
  • For establishing the first contact, the introduction usually takes place through an intermediary who is trusted by both sides.
  • Hierarchy needs to be observed when greeting and communicating. Greet the oldest or person of highest position first and continue in descending order. Remember the importance of status.

Communicating

  • When communicating, listen and watch carefully what is said and expressed nonverbally. Asking questions which could possibly be tricky to answer like delivery deadlines or adherence to product specifications may not produce ‘straightforward’ verbal answers. Harmonious face-to-face communication overrides ‘truthful’ but perceivingly uncomfortable or negative responses. When talking to equals and younger people, the communication style may be more direct.
  • From the above it follows that it requires different and polite ways to ask difficult questions or to deny requests.

Negotiating

  • Negotiations can be lengthy and may require several trips to come to a conclusion. You need to be patient. It would certainly be advantageous if you have a Bangladeshi in your own team, perhaps as an advisor you could consult during breaks. Make sure you understand well what is said and meant by the other side. Repeat what you understood from what was said. You may judge communication as winding and not strait to the point. Negotiations are not perceived as a win-lose situation but both sides should gain from an agreement. Prepare for hard bargaining and when it comes to prices, give yourself enough buffer to be able to reduce. Bargaining is quite enjoyed in Bangladesh, so try to overcome your own reluctance to do so.

Leadership and management style

  • Bangladeshi managers and leaders generally practice a directive leadership style. Culturally, this is an expected and therefore effective management style.
  • For this management style to be effective the executive also has to be well informed about all internal and external issues relating to the business in order to make the right decisions.
  • Superiors are strict with subordinates, but show a ‘benevolent’ attitude.

 

 

Dimensions

The appreciation for hierarchical order and top-down decision-making is shown by a very high score of 80 on the cultural dimension of “Power Distance” (PDI). Inequality regarding holding power, wealth and status tends to be accepted. It also explains the appreciation and respect shown to older people and those in higher positions. An often-observed consequence is also the prevalence of corruption. If holding power by some individuals, groups or classes of people is seen – especially by the less powerful -  as an existential reality, it tempts the power holders to abuse their position and some find it hard to resist the temptation. This and all other dimensions have a scale from 0 to 100.

The very strong family orientation to be part of a collective and the interests of such a group overriding individual interests is shown by the low score of 20 for the dimension “Individualism versus Collectivism” (IDV). Therefore, if you meet an individual and get to know his or her opinion, interests ,and concerns you also meet the extended family, although invisible to you. As one of the consequences, it might be difficult for a Bangladeshi business person not to employ a member from the wider family circle (if so desired by the family) if such a person would have to compete with a highly qualified ‘outsider’. The overarching values of pride, honour and shame are also a consequence of the strong collectivist traits.

With a high score of 60 for “Uncertainty Avoidance” (UAI) this dimension explains the high anxiety level vis-à-vis the uncertainty and ambiguity of life and the need to reduce this volatile feeling. Rules, rituals and structures, written-down or implicit, help to avoid uncertainty. Hierarchical order also reduces uncertainty and ambiguity. This is an additional explanation in terms of the cultural dimensions, apart from the high score of Power Distance (PDI). PDI in combination with high UAI provides the explanation for the high appreciation of a strong hierarchical order.

The dimension of Masculinity-Femininity (MAS) expresses assertiveness and competitiveness on the masculinity pole and modesty on the femininity pole. Bangladesh scores moderately masculine with a score of 55.

With a score of 47 for Long Term Orientation (LTO) the scores is very close to the median score of 50 that no particular preference shall be deduced. The dimension Long Term Orientation versus Short Term Orientation (LTO) expresses itself in societies as either normative (short term) or pragmatic (long term).

It can certainly be said that Bangladesh society feels restrained by various social norms and prohibitions and indulging too much in worldly pursuits is the wrong thing to do. This is expressed in the dimension “Indulgence versus Restraint” (IvR), where Bangladesh scores low with 20 on the Restraint side. Incidentally, almost 2/3 of all surveyed countries score on the Restraint side of this dimension.

Generally, if the score of your own country culture for any of the 6 dimensions differs by at least 10 points from the host country score, you will notice the difference.

For a more detailed analysis on the Cultural Dimensions, and how Bangladesh compares to other countries, please visit Hofstede Insights’ Country Comparison tool.
 

Interesting Links

Wikipedia on Bangladesh (history, economy, infrastructure and more)
Wikipedia on Culture of Bangladesh
Wikimedia Atlas of Bangladesh
CIA World Factbook entry for Bangladesh
Country Data for Bangladesh by the World Bank
Ease of Doing Business: Bangladesh, a World Bank publication, also download of profile 2017
European Commission / Trade / Bangladesh
The Global Competitiveness Report 2016-2017, World Economic Forum (download, Bangladesh p. 110)
The Corruption Perceptions Index for Bangladesh by Transparency International

 

Last updated: 17.01.2018 - 15:11
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