Commitment Varies Across Cultures

What You'll Learn
  • In some cultures, relationship trumps written agreements and makes it acceptable and even expected for the other side to reopen negotiations
  • When asked for gifts, do your best to honor the relationship by being helpful, without giving away valuable concessions or getting taken advantage of
  • Be clear about your policy on bribery and know how to politely decline such a request

Commitment Expectations

You may think the parties are committed to deal terms, and may even have a written agreement in place. But depending on the culture, the written agreement may take second place to what is expected out of the relationship.

Re-Opening of Negotiations

In relationship-based negotiations in many parts of the world (as opposed to the contract-based style common in the U.S., Germany, UK, Canada and others), it is not unusual for one party to ask for modifications after the agreement has been signed and the deal has been "closed." This "re-opening of negotiations" can be very unsettling to those unaccustomed to it, and can be considered less than honorable. But for cultures that view the relationship as more important than the agreement, it is assumed that a solid partner will understand a change in circumstances or schedule and thus at least consider an adjustment.

  • It is not always necessary to concede, but one should accept such a request gracefully and consider the circumstances.
  • If you commonly follow this practice, do not be taken aback if your task-oriented counterpart does not respond favorably. Over time (perhaps many different times), explain carefully and logically why you now are asking for a concession.

Favors as a sign of Commitment

Another practice frequently encountered in relationship-oriented cultures is to ask the other party for favors, sometimes as a "litmus test" of their commitment to the relationship. These favors may include business-oriented requests for flexible schedules, exclusive rights, etc., but they also include personal favors, such as "shopping" for a PC or laptop for them, looking after their son or daughter who is studying abroad in your country, or hosting friends of theirs on sightseeing visits. In task-oriented cultures, on the other hand, requests for favors, especially personal favors, are rather unusual until the two parties have a mature relationship. Task-oriented groups are likely to be surprised and embarrassed by a request coming too soon; however, a refusal of such a request does not invalidate the business relationship in a task-oriented system.

  • For task-oriented groups: Requests for favors are not to be brushed aside lightly if you value the relationship. If you can accommodate them, do. If you truly cannot, make a very polite excuse accompanied by a vague promise to find another way to help them. (And then follow through to the best of your ability.)
  • For relationship-oriented groups: Your task-oriented counterparts are not likely to understand the true meaning behind such a request (i.e., as an expression of mutual trust). It is best to withhold such requests until the relationship is quite mature.

Gift or Bribery?

In many cultures around the world, the offering of tangible rewards or incentives is a frequent component of doing business. In some places these are called gifts or consideration, in other places, bribery. There are of course many gray areas in-between. You must define your own policy and follow it.

  • Never express shock or disgust openly to your counterpart.
  • If you are declining such an offer, simply thank them and say that your company policy does not allow you to accept.

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