Negotiation across cultures

Jun 24, 2015

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Different people negotiate different ways. Culture influences how individuals negotiate and how they view and interpret the negotiation process. Everything from language barriers, body language, and how you meet-and-greet, can have an impact on your negotiations. Cross-cultural negotiation is a very sensitive matter. The slightest gesture can carry a certain meaning in one culture while meaning something entirely different in another.

In the week’s blog post we touch on just a few points on negotiation across cultures and share some ideas on how managers and leaders can be more successful in these negotiations.


Management Implications

Even though a leader may have proven successful in one country, this is no guarantee that he or she will succeed in another. To be successful, global organisations need leaders who can drive the business on a global scale. Leading across cultures is a critical element of leading today and it often requires making decisions in complex or ambiguous environments, understanding cultural nuances and adapting one’s style accordingly (Manpower Group and Tucker International, 2011).

In order to understand the influence of culture on negotiations and decision making, we can use intercultural studies and different nations’ cultural strengths and weaknesses to anticipate an opposing nation’s possible behaviours in the negotiation process. It also helps understand the cultural factors that may influence their decision making (Chang, Journal of Human Resource and Adult Learning, 2006).


This week’s tips:

Preparing for intercultural negotiations and dispute resolution


  1. Understand that culture can make a difference and pay attention to it.

Every culture has a different way of viewing the world and therefore a different way of negotiating.

There are some cultures that like to have a team of negotiators rather than just a single negotiator. Other cultures want to create a friendly relationship. That is to say, they may want to know the person with whom they’re doing business. Others care little about the people and just want the contract signed or price agreed.

According to research by Hofstede (1982), there are four dimensions of culture which affect intercultural communication – Power Distance, Individualism/Collectivism, Masculinity/Femineity, and Uncertainty Avoidance. We suggest reading more on this as it gives more of a picture of culture and its influence on business.

Understanding how to properly integrate your own personal negotiation style into a cross-cultural setting is vital for success in global markets. Make sure you do your research before you engage in a negotiation with someone from a different culture.


  1. Educate yourself about a new culture

Once a negotiator has a general understanding of potential cultural similarities or differences in the context of negotiations, it is often helpful to do more detailed research and exploration regarding the other culture and its members. Learn a bit about the culture you are going to be negotiating with – go online, read books or even better find someone from that culture willing to answer questions.


  1. Develop a negotiating plan appropriate to the situation.

Based upon what you have learned in the earlier steps, develop a preliminary plan concerning how you might initiate negotiations, and then respond as the situation evolves. Consider how to:

  • establish contacts and build relationships that will be compatible with the other culture and your own
  • develop appropriate forums and formats for interaction
  • comply with their negotiation protocols in a way that is comfortable for all parties

Cohen (1991) suggests cultivating a warm personal relationship with the other side’s negotiators even before negotiations start. Do not assume the other side interprets things in the same way that you do. Be alert and sensitive to nonverbal or indirect communication, and be aware of your own nonverbal cues. Be aware of and respect the importance of maintaining face. Fit your negotiating strategy to the opponent’s cultural needs, haggling when appropriate or starting from general principles.


  1. If you sense confusion always clarify and re-check for understanding

Speak slower, avoid fancy language and keep it simple. When you feel it’s hard to work out what’s going on, ask to clarify. Simply expressing your willingness to learn or show sensitivity can lead to more successful outcomes.


  1. Pay attention to potential gender dynamics

If you are working across cultures and genders, make sure you are fully aware of any sensitivities. For example, some Muslims tend not to shake hands with the opposite sex. In some cultures they may assume that the woman present is not of consequence whereas in reality they may be the decision maker.


We would love to know your thoughts! Join the conversation and comment below!




By: Curran Daly + Associates


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