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 learned 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 training
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, while 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.
After many years of travelling and working in the Middle East and Islamic world, Neil undertook an M.A in Middle Eastern Studies. After the successful completion of the course, he worked as a cultural consultant, teacher and translator. Neil is now the Director of London based cross cultural consultancy, www.kwintessential.co.uk.© 2005 Neil Payne
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