The Mujamaleh: A Young Jordanian Entrepreneur’s Favorite Weapon

The art of kissing ass, otherwise known as il-mujamaleh or haz dannab or maseh joukh, is not an exclusive art to the Jordanian landscape, but rather a worldwide occurrence. However, when it comes to Jordan, it is indeed elevated to an art form. Why? I have my theories. One of which is based on what I believe to be low self-esteem, which is quite common in Jordan. People feel they need to compensate for what they lack – be it skills, education or just plain old value – and thus what takes its place is the mujamaleh. I trust this theory the most as I have often put it to the test and discovered that the lower one’s self esteem and the less skills they appear to have and the less value they appear to posses, the more the mujamalat; the more kissing of ass. The most common-place setting is in the public sector. Especially small-level government bodies. But, like the rest of the world, it is not merely a compensation mechanism, but a device used to gain something. Someone wants something for themselves that they know they could not get it on their own, by the use of their own skills and talent.

The reason I bring this all up is not to attempt to analyze a social habit, which I’ve attempted to do before, but rather place it in a specific context. That context is business.

I will admit right off the bat that I have never been someone who got on board with this art form, and I attribute that fact directly to my upbringing, which took place far from these desert shores. I am physically and mentally incapable of uttering insincere flatteries, and 99% of all flattery in Jordan is insincere – more so in the business context, when someone is doing it specifically for personal gain. That inability has allowed me to have finely tuned senses to the Jordanian mujamaleh – like a blind man who can hear twice as better as anyone else in the room. I can see the bull crap flying past me from across a crowded room.

Where it gets interesting is when I see it uttered by my generation. 20-something year olds who have had this art passed down to them by their forefathers, can carry it forward like a sacred torch.

And the most interesting part is when it is used by would-be entrepreneurs. There is nothing more animalistic than observing a young entrepreneur crawling through the high grass of a conference room, scavenging for big names and VIPs, someone to latch on to and then flatter the heck out of. If they manage to secure a 2 minute conversation with such a class of person, they will brag about the encounter as if they were lifelong friends. It is part hilarious and part sad, with a hint of disappointing, just to see 20-something year olds waste so much time and energy on flattering people who either are so accustomed to it that they would be undeserving of their current statuses if they made it this far without a finely tuned sense of the bull crap.

The phase itself is a difficult one. 20-something, got a good idea, something even, perhaps, a bit investment worthy. The desire to get in to that small, small circle of elites, who smoke cigars, wear cuff links and drink white wine. It’s a sacred ritual. The need to hinge on to those attributes like they were the only thing that defined entrepreneurship. Rest assured, they help lubricate the flattery process. The clothes, the accessories, are all little weapons in the arsenal. But the AK-47 of that very arsenal remains the tongue and the willingness to let it loose in all forms of poetry and prose designed to appeal to the highest common denominator.

I often wonder how the older generation perceive it. Again, I’m sure they’ve grown accustomed to it, but how is it received? With arms wide open, or with cautious disapproval? To an extent, I see that flattery does open doors. But these are doors that I, personally, would never enjoying walking through. For if you’re trying to gain favor with someone who enjoys flattery, they are probably not worth the investment.

But this is besides point.

The point here is to spell out a message to 20-something year old, would-be entrepreneurs – and it may be the only piece of advice I have for such a group. And that would be: add value.

Forget about flattery. Those are the ways of your father and his father, maybe even your tawjihi failing cousin. Flattery is indeed an art, and you shouldn’t build a reputation for yourself as an artist. It is the paint-by-numbers of charisma.

Add value. Offer something of value to the world. Contribute with value. Give people something they will see real value in, and thus want to invest in. Not necessarily financially. No, not at all. Relationships are built and maintained based on value. The people you want on your side, the circle you’re trying to get in to, the party you never got an invite to – well those people are often in search of someone or something of value. Don’t sell an idea like it’s the best thing since sliced bread, or even sell your ego. Both have little to no value whatsoever. In my experience, tell a story. Stories have value, because it aims to describe to someone why something is important to you. Why it has value to you, and thus, why it should have value to them and for others. Don’t tell them how much you admire them and their company, and go on and on about them and their company. You might see flattery working in some cases and thus believe that only through such faked pleasantries can success be harnessed, but those who do make it through are the boy bands of the industry; they’re a hit for a while and produce everything-friendly music, but in a few years they will have faded in to obscurity having left nothing memorable or of value behind. In other words, forget about the Backstreet Boys (if you haven’t already done so) – think U2.

So to the 20-something year old, go-getter entrepreneur who should happen to find him or herself face to face with someone they deem to be of importance – avoid flattery. Offer them value instead. Tell a story. Having something worth adding to the conversation.

And to the upper echelons of power in the Arabian business world, I implore you to sidestep the young entrepreneurs who may approach you with a wide smile and a series of pleasantries spinning frantically off the tip of a tongue. This is the last thing our region needs right not; investing in people who have little value to offer beyond the confines of a mujamaleh.

via: 7iber


  • its just like calling the radio and admitting how much u love the program, it’s endemic Nas. we are like that unfortunately. i think the real sad reason lies in our upbringing; lack of motivation to education and motivation to lead on our own. there always seemed someone somewhere that we needed to fawn. in my opinion time can be the only cure and entrepreneurs should be at the frontier of changing this behavior if they need to lead in their businesses and not flatteringly bribe their way around. real deep insight Naseem, right on!

  • I say, forget about “them” all together…Focus on what you are and can do, and the “them” part will come by default…if you’re of a real value…”they” will approach you.

    Might be totally wrong.

  • Sadly that’s not how things work, flattery is not what will guarantee you success it is only the basic requirement to be likable person in Jordan.
    If you are not dragging your tongue between your knees you are considered to be stuck up and full of it and consequently people will not even give the chance to be heard or offer what you have to say or the value you might present. So without the minimal amount of flattery you won’t get far sadly.
    After a long bout of flattery you will be asked about your competency from those who are worthy of the chase and then it is your time to prove your value and if you are lucky you will be able to eventually drop the ass kissing routine.
    Given that quite a few people got to where they are through a combination of ass kissing, nepotism and a happenstance of cosmic misfortunes that they wouldn’t recognize value even if it came right in their eyes and made them BURN!
    So a little flattery goes a long way …. even if it makes me a douche in my own mind it saves me months of agony and headaches

  • @mohanned: it’s something i’ve witnessed everywhere.

    @bambam: interesting observation…i guess you could call it the mujamaleh threshold…or mujamaleh ceiling…

  • Sadly, spot on. It is a bani Adam trait, not just in this part of the world, but you are right that it has been elevated to an art form.

    Conversely, I am amazed by the lack of legitimate affirmation and encouragement of excellence and perseverance. It seems people are more suspicious of true and honorable acclaim than frivolous empty words.

  • Young Jordanian entrepreneurs DONT listen to Naseem!

    While adding value is the way to go, it doesn’t harm to build good relationships with powerful people even if it was a 20 second chance. It is a human nature, we all like to be flattered, but one has to be careful, because it should sound genuine in order to register in the receptive mind.

    and who knows, sometimes, a good word, can make all the difference!

  • @kinzi: thanks for your input as you probably have the benefit of seeing the contrast.

    @arabObserver: well despite the fact that i don’t think it’s polite to put forth a point of view by shooting down another persons, and telling people not to “listen” to me…i think my argument here wasn’t against building good relationships, but against the excessive flattery, which in the arabian and jordanian context is better described as maseh joukh. it’s not about a “good word” or “complimenting” someone sincerely…it is about the maseh joukh that I believe to be a habit that creates detrimental effects to our society and our economy. it elevates the unworthy who get by on words rather than actions; rather than providing us with anything of substance and value.

    if you didn’t get that from the above post then I would question anyone who listens to YOU! 😛

  • you made me laugh with “all circle of elites, who smoke cigars, wear cuff links and drink white wine. It’s a sacred ritual”, WEAR CUFF LINKS! lol there are some for a dollar man…

  • Well, maseh joukh is a skill, not everyone is good at it, but if done right, it can help.. and yes, I still don’t think they should listen to you on this.. and I don’t mean to be impolite, just saying it frankly!

  • @londoner: well, yeah, but you get the point 🙂

    @ArabObserver: hmm. the same way in which your mind currently mistakes being “frank” with being “polite”, is the same way in which you confuse “maseh joukh” with being a [positive] “skill”.

    it is a disease….not a cure.

  • The loudest person in the room is the weakest person in the room.

    Even if you happen to become successful because you sucked up to someone, you still lose. You lose your dignity. I’d rather be a man of value than a man of success.

    On a side note, if you think Jordan is bad, you should see Egypt!!

  • أولا أريد أن أشكرك على هذا المقال الرائع الذي يظهر مدى عمق فكرك Ùˆ ذكائك
    Here is the thing: Lesson learned : Be courteous or in other words, use Mujamleh or you’ll be doomed.
    I’m your average hot-blooded guy who would not hesitate to blow a deal if Mr.VIP got on my nervous.I’ve been called “دقم” because no matter who is opposite to me, I’ll just state my opinion, regardless.
    Here is what happened, whenever I was dealing with an account, we didn’t secure the job. I’ve stepped down, and got someone else, who is more “courteous”, and voila! The client were actually complaning about my attitude. Which outside Jo was very appreciated and welcomed.

    They expect you to do it, if you don’t they’ll say you are a bigot and shayef halak.
    Thinking about the mouths waiting for me to feed them, now I’m mastering the art of sweet talk, rather ass kissing, though I have to throw in a customary mujamaleh , with a limit of two per person. Usually a positive and true remark. Works very well with low self esteem people.
    Sometimes, I admit it, I’m a total jerk, dropping the biggest BS mujamleh to soften things, then feeling all upset and unsettled for doing so.
    Still, people hate to deal with me 😀 Some clients appreciate the straight forwardness and reliability rather all talk and no end results.

    To secure a job, get the pretty face/sweet talker, to perform the job, get the “دقم”

    Goverment,police, cleaning guys, watchman, labors, etc? Keep the Mujamleh coming or else!!

    Nice post , as usual 😉 3ala rasi ya kbeer

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