Cross Cultural Negotiations

Cross cultural negotiation is one of many specialized areas within the wider field of cross cultural communications. By taking cross cultural negotiation training, negotiators and sales personnel give themselves an advantage over competitors.

There is an argument that proposes that culture is inconsequential to cross cultural negotiation. It maintains that as long as a proposal is financially attractive it will succeed. However, this is a naïve way of approaching international business.

Let us look at a brief example of how cross cultural negotiation training can benefit the international business person:

There are two negotiators dealing with the same potential client in the Middle East. Both have identical proposals and packages. One ignores the importance of cross cultural negotiation training believing the proposal will speak for itself. The other undertakes some cross cultural training. He/she learns about the culture, values, beliefs, etiquette and approaches to business, meetings and negotiations. Nine times out of ten the latter will succeed over the rival.

This is because 1) it is likely they would have endeared themselves more to the host negotiation team and 2) they would be able to tailor their approach to the negotiations in a way that maximises the potential of a positive outcome.

Cross cultural negotiations is about more than just how foreigners close deals. It involves looking at all factors that can influence the proceedings. By way of highlighting this, a few brief examples of topics covered in cross cultural negotiation training shall be offered.

Eye Contact : In the US, UK and much of northern Europe, strong, direct eye contact conveys confidence and sincerity. In South America it is a sign of trustworthiness. However, in some cultures such as the Japanese, prolonged eye contact is considered rude and is generally avoided.

Personal Space & Touch: In Europe and North America, business people will usually leave a certain amount of distance between themselves when interacting. Touching only takes place between friends. In South America or the Middle East, business people are tactile and like to get up close. In Japan or China, it is not uncommon for people to leave a gap of four feet when conversing. Touching only takes place between close friends and family members.

Time: Western societies are very ‘clock conscious’. Time is money and punctuality is crucial. This is also the case in countries such as Japan or China where being late would be taken as an insult. However, in South America, southern Europe and the Middle East, being on time for a meeting does not carry the same sense of urgency.

Meeting & Greeting: most international business people meet with a handshake. In some countries this is not appropriate between genders. Some may view a weak handshake as sign of weakness whereas others would perceive a firm handshake as aggressive. How should people be addressed? Is it by first name, surname or title? Is small talk part of the proceedings or not?

Gift-Giving: In Japan and China gift-giving is an integral part of business protocol however in the US or UK, it has negative connotations. Where gifts are exchanged should one give lavish gifts? Are they always reciprocated? Should they be wrapped? Are there numbers or colours that should be avoided?

All the above in one way or another will impact cross cultural negotiation and can only be learnt through cross cultural training. Doing or saying the wrong thing at the wrong time, poor communication and cross cultural misunderstandings can all have harmful consequences.

Cross cultural negotiation training builds its foundations upon understanding etiquettes and approaches to business abroad before focusing on cross cultural differences in negotiation styles and techniques.

There are three interconnected aspects that need to be considered before entering into cross cultural negotiation.

The Basis of the Relationship: in much of Europe and North America, business is contractual in nature. Personal relationships are seen as unhealthy as they can cloud objectivity and lead to complications. In South America and much of Asia, business is personal. Partnerships will only be made with those they know, trust and feel comfortable with. It is therefore necessary to invest in relationship building before conducting business.

Information at Negotiations: Western business culture places emphasis on clearly presented and rationally argued business proposals using statistics and facts. Other business cultures rely on similar information but with differences. For example, visual and oral communicators such as the South Americans may prefer information presented through speech or using maps, graphs and charts.

Negotiation Styles: the way in which we approach negotiation differs across cultures. For example, in the Middle East rather than approaching topics sequentially negotiators may discuss issues simultaneously.

South Americans can become quite vocal and animated. The Japanese will negotiate in teams and decisions will be based upon consensual agreement. In Asia, decisions are usually made by the most senior figure or head of a family. In China, negotiators are highly trained in the art of gaining concessions. In Germany, decisions can take a long time due to the need to analyse information and statistics in great depth. In the UK, pressure tactics and imposing deadlines are ways of closing deals whilst in Greece this would backfire.

Clearly there are many factors that need to be considered when approaching cross cultural negotiation. Through cross cultural negotiation training, business personnel are given the appropriate knowledge that can help them prepare their presentations and sales pitches effectively. By tailoring your behaviour and the way you approach the negotiation you will succeed in maximising your potential.

National and Cultural Negotiation Style

Cultural and national negotiation styles reflect communication behaviors and the priorities of that culture. Priorities such as trust, teamwork, non-confrontational situations, and openness are all along a sliding scale with each culture. The communication behaviors of each culture reflect these priorities and can dictate how a culture will engage in negotiations. Often, Japanese and other Asian negotiators will plan a social event and dinner before any real negotiations occur. Likewise, Americans place an emphasis on taking clients out to dinner and a round of golf. Engaging in this type of activity builds trust and opens the line of communication between the two parties. Using persuasive techniques to “connect” with another person can lead to trust and the sense of a relationship being built. The negotiation styles of these two cultures mesh well, thus allowing them to understand the priorities of each other’s culture.

Once a relationship has been built on trust, the negotiators can begin sharing information. This level of openness is highly dependent on the level of openness for that country. This stage in negotiations require each party to fulfill their end of reciprocation – which can sometimes make one party feel like they are being confronted – but if done correctly can develop “quick trust” (Brett, 207). Quick Trust develops when two groups share information and allow the other party to see their weak side. Obviously developing trust is important, however some cultures simply may not be comfortable with divulging information quickly.

Getting Down to business: Using Culture to Persuade

Arguably one of the most important factors in negotiation is an understating of the culture in which you are engaging in negotiations. Cultures vary in their openness and in the time that business in conducted. Terms of agreements should be taken into consideration; for example, Italy has a 90-day billing cycle versus the “normal” USA 30-billing cycle. These cultural norms are very important for understanding how to succeed in negotiating on a global scale. Building relationships is the key for building trust among partners or potential clients. Trust can become an all encompassing factor when it comes time to make a final decision, the understanding of what is expected and following through will allow negotiations to flow smoothly.