Negotiation Safe Skills for Bargaining Across Cultures

What You'll Learn
  • Conducting negotiations in a global setting requires an understanding of cultural differences
  • Use bargaining safe skills across all cultures
  • Understand the culture's orientation toward task v. relationship; direct v. indirect communication; expressive v. reserved style; and urgent v. relaxed toward time.

Conducting negotiations in a global setting requires an understanding of cultural differences. There are many books addressing the subject, some focusing more on etiquette practices (bow, kiss or shake hands?), others on specific positional bargaining techniques (should we offer 10% or 30%?). This section provides practical information to help you adapt your Best Negotiating Practices to a global setting.

Safe Skills

"Safe skills" in cross-cultural negotiation are ones that you can use effectively in almost any setting. Since safe skills are of a more general nature you do not have to re-learn or re-calibrate every time you change environments. For example, safe skills can help you:

  1. When you are involved in negotiations with people from more than one culture;
  2. when you move across regions in a given country (for example, if you'll be doing business in Harbin and Shanghai);
  3. when you don't know in advance if your counterparts have been hand-picked for their considerable international expertise and knowledge of your culture and language, or if they will be highly traditional and unaccustomed to dealing with outside cultures; and
  4. whether you're dealing with a public relations firm, an oil and gas firm, or a government.

All of the skills marked by can be used safely, no matter what the cultural context. Some general examples of safe skills are:

  • Ride the style: Assume that the other party is on its best or at least normal behavior; reserve judgment when encountering a style with which you are unfamiliar or uncomfortable. (For example, resist the temptation to interpret indirectness as dishonesty, or an effusive, emotional style as either naïveté or a true indicator of real feelings.) Just ride with that style until you have more experience with it, and then make it work for you.
  • Reserve judgment: Remember that cultural values are often behind well-meaning clashes over right and wrong, ethical and unethical, professional and unprofessional. Again, reserve judgment until you know more. (Don't forget to find out more.)
  • Person to person: When attempting to investigate an issue, solve a problem or defuse conflict, the most effective style across a broad range of cultures is to do this tactfully and in very small groups (1 on 1, or 2 to 4 people, with parity in rank). Work as a go-between, and make sure no one loses face publicly.
  • No stereotyping: Use the strengths of the culture you're working with to build bridges. But remember that a little knowledge can be dangerous if not handled properly. Resist stereotyping by actively interpreting the whole picture rather than trying to second-guess the other party.
  • Creative solutions: Always look for creative, mutual-gain solutions instead of thinking in win/lose terms ("We're doing it my way because we're in my country" or "I have to behave just as they do if I want this contract.")
  • Joint effort: Always remember that they are working hard at this too!

Remember: It is far more useful to understand and interpret another culture's style than it is to attempt to imitate that style.


Cultural Generalizations

Generally speaking, cultures can be classified into groups depending on how they organize different aspects of attitude and behavior. There are many different ways to characterize culture, and we will be examining a few that have particular importance for the negotiating relationship.

Descriptions in this section are general, and are presented in a more "black-and-white" manner than what you may actually encounter. This information is not meant to predict how your counterparts will behave or to typecast any particular group, but to help you make sense of situations that present cultural challenges.

These four cultural concepts impact negotiating:

  1. Task versus relationship oriented;
  2. Direct versus indirect;
  3. Expressive versus reserved;
  4. Urgent versus relaxed.