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.

How To Use ‘Even-If’ To Win Hard Negotiations – Negotiation Tip of the Week

To what degree do you seek creative solutions when involved in hard-nosed negotiations? Such negotiations can be extremely demanding and fraught with stress. When coupled with someone that’s a hard-type negotiator (i.e. a negotiator that either has a zero-sum perspective of the negotiation or someone that thrives on being obstinate in a negotiation), you can find yourself making unplanned concessions if you’re not mindful of what you’re doing.

One way to employ a creative solution when involved in a hard negotiation is to use the ‘even-if’ strategy. It can quicken the pace on the path to a successful negotiation outcome. While it can be a viable ploy for you, you need to also be watchful of it being used against you.

What is the ‘even-if’ strategy:

Stated succinctly, the even-if strategy allows its user to stealthily subordinate the other negotiator’s proposition to his. The strategy avoids potential conflicts that might occur if the other negotiator’s point was addressed prior to addressing yours. Thus, using this strategy successfully, allows you to put your point into the forefront of the discussion and it alters the flow of the negotiation.

How to use ‘even-if’:

The strategy can be used to make your point prior to addressing the other negotiator’s perspective. It’s done in the hopes that your point will dilute or alter his thought process. To use the strategy, you can say something akin to, “even if we could save $10 million by accepting your offer, at this time, we do not have that much money to invest. I suggest we look at a solution that may be closer to the $5 million threshold.” By doing this, as stated above, you’ve repositioned yourself and his offer by utilizing this strategy in this manner.

Best time to employ ‘even-if’:

Anytime you wish to subordinate the opposing negotiator’s point or request to yours, is a good time to employ this strategy. While this strategy can be used at any point in any negotiation, it’s even more powerful when used with someone that’s aggressive or someone that attempts to bully you. In that case, the strategy calms the bully. You’re not stating that he’s crazy or irrational for making such an outlandish request, you’re first acknowledging him from a respectful aspect and simply stating that you can’t meet his offer. In so doing, you potentially side-step any aggressive behavior that might stem from his otherwise abusive demeanor.

How to defend from ‘even-if’:

Since this strategy is used to put one proposition on the table for discussion ahead of another, you should be mindful of when the other negotiator attempts to use this strategy against you. The way to defend against it is to simply state, ‘Okay, let’s discuss your point next.’ You can use the tonality of your voice to position this as a request or a statement. Then, go right into the point that you wanted to discuss. A smart negotiator may not let you get away with your attempt to place your agenda ahead of his. Thus, you must be prepared to decide if you’ll acquiesce on one point to receive a concession on your request later. Therein lies another way you can use this strategy. If you get into a give-and-take as to whose point will be discussed first, you can present a point that’s nothing more than a red herring to be sacrificed for this purpose.

Even if (wink) you never use this strategy, knowing about it will make you a better negotiator… and everything will be right with the world.

Remember, you’re always negotiating!

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"Avoid Danger In Negotiations – How To Control Conversations Better" – Negotiation Tip of the Week

Two agents were working undercover as they discussed an update with their informant. They were seated in a recessed area in an attempt to keep their conversation private and to avoid danger. They wanted to control the environment as much as possible. Suddenly, a panhandler walked over and aggressively began to ask for money. One agent said pleasantly, no. But the person persisted by asking, why not? The agent said, no, again. Still, the person continued their plea for money. Finally, the agent growled as he said in a loud voice, I said no! Stunned, the beggar turned and quickly walked away.

Potential danger always surrounds you, even during negotiations (you’re always negotiating). In some cases, you avoid it by staying outside of its bounds. At other times, you prevent it by the way you control conversations in an environment.

When the agents turned their attention back to their update, the informant asked, did you think that person was dangerous? The agent said, no. That beggar didn’t accept my answer the first few times. So, I had to alter the delivery of my words. By changing the tone of my reply and sounding more hostile, the panhandler sensed my, no, response as being more definitive. That’s why he walked away at that point.

Consider the following techniques to increase your control as you negotiate with those that might attempt to be defiant or with those that you’d like to control better.

  • Block and Bridge

Block and bridge is one way to alter the flow of a conversation. You’d implement its use as a conversation began to head in an unwanted direction – one that you feared would cause you to lose control of the discussion or interaction. You might also consider employing it when you wanted to enhance the flow of a conversation.

To invoke its use, when someone began making statements that you disagreed with, or citing accounts not aligned with where you wanted to take the conversation, block their comments. As an example, you can say, you have a point (block), and the outcome was less than expected (bridge). I suggest we take the following approach. It’s known to have better results.

The manner you block someone’s comments depends on the severity of the situation. If it’s one that might escalate to a high degree of irritation, you might consider blocking the other person’s statements with a harsh tone and words. If that’s not required, consider being milder in your intonation and demeanor.

  • Answering Questions With Questions

Answering questions with questions is an excellent way to gather more information than you give. It also allows you to control a conversation. Because the person asking questions is controlling the flow of the discussion. And that occurs as long as the other party is answering questions.

To implement this strategy, ask a question in response to one that’s asked of you. Do this instead of answering the initial query. Thus, instead of providing an answer to that question, you’d respond with one of your own.

As an example, if someone says, do I have to take this course of action? Your response might be, what do you think will happen if you don’t take this course of action? You’ve not answered the question. And if you get a response, you’ve gained more insight into the individual’s thoughts. Along with a possible solution to a situation if you choose to implement that person’s response.

  • Listening To What’s Not Said

Many people consider themselves good communicators because they pay attention to what someone says. In reality, you can be a better communicator and control conversations better by observing what’s someone doesn’t say.

As an example, if someone said, I didn’t do what you said I did. You might consider a person’s answer to mean, I didn’t do what you said I did. Yes, I did it, but not the way you stated it.

By listening for what’s not said, and the response of how something’s said, you’ll gain better insight and control of someone’s statements. You’ll also know more about how that person is communicating. And that will be worth its weight in gold.


In every environment, and every negotiation you’re in, think about how you’ll control that environment. In particular, consider how you’ll avoid dangerous situations, what form of control you’ll use, and where that might take you in your encounter. Because the better you control conversations, the more power and control you’ll have in every negotiation and situation that you’re in… and everything will be right with the world.

Remember, you’re always negotiating!

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After reading this article, what are you thinking? I’d like to know. Reach me at [email protected]