Negotiating in a Foreign Language

What You'll Learn
  • Expect challenges and longer time lines when negotiating in a foreign language
  • Providing summaries in writing helps the other side feel more comfortable that they understand the deal when they can have their experts check the written terms

The Challenge of Negotiating in a Foreign or Second Language

Never underestimate the difficulties of doing business in a foreign language.

If your counterpart is doing business in your language, consider these factors:

  • It will take longer to communicate, both long-distance and face-to-face (be mindful of BNP 4, patience).
  • Avoid slang and any stories that may be culturally offensive.
  • Documents may need to be created in two languages.
  • People may not understand 100% of what you say, and may not answer questions because they don't want to admit they don't understand fully. Providing your counterpart with written backups of all communications is very helpful in speeding up communications, and shows consideration for their situation as well.

If you are doing business in your counterpart's language, consider these factors:

  • Bring your own interpreter. Don't rely on theirs.
  • Don't assume you understand the meaning of their colloquialisms.
  • Compensate for any language gaps by providing your materials in written form and asking for theirs in written form so that you can cross-check with your more fluent team members to ensure you've understood correctly.
  • Caucus as much as necessary (with appropriate apologies to your counterparts), and don't be embarrassed to ask for clarification.

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