Negotiation behavior in different cultures

2. 17. 2021

Negotiation in a multicultural environment can be pretty tough sometimes. Let's take a look at how to exceed the crucial attributes of the negotiation process impacted by culture. This article will explain everything you need to know about this topic.

Negotiation is one of the long-standing human activities that have been here since forever. People have used it for both private life and during business interactions with others. Did you know the first academic study focused on negotiations in business communication appeared in the late 1960s? Many years have passed since it was first published, but this topic still resonates with many theorists. They study its numerous features and aspects: sociological, behavioral, communication, ethical, legal, cultural, economic. 



What are the fundamental aspects of the negotiation process? 

They are four simple factors (4 C) that cannot be affected during the negotiation process. 

  • Character (of the person you are negotiating with)
  • Company (and its characteristics)
  • Context 
  • Culture (national, individual, or organizational)

Even though this might be surprising for you, most of us engage in negotiation, mediation, or conflict resolution unknowingly almost every day. We negotiate with our partners, our colleagues at work, and even with our kids. The point is, there is often no conscious understanding of the process. Becoming a successful negotiator is a long-lasting process. The first step you have to take is to get to know yourself. Are you more of a competitive or collaborative person? There is a difference. People who are coercive and with a kind of hardball approach have a "win-lose" attitude. On the contrary, people with strategic and integrative approaches have a "win-win" attitude. 

What is the negotiation process you need to work with during the negotiation itself?

  • preparation and planning (known as pre-negotiations)
  • presentation of the proposal
  • confrontation during negotiation
  • concluding or reaching the agreement
  • and last the revision

The culture impact on the final result of negotiation

Culture profoundly influences the ways people behave, talk and think. Because of so many various aspects, it is nearly impossible for any negotiator to understand them all. There are many obstacles that you have to watch out for, such as:

  • Sacred values
  • Biased behavior
  • Ethnocentrism
  • Western influence

Cultural Dimensions Affecting Negotiations 

Understanding cultural differences between countries is vital. For that, we use the theory of Hofstede’s cultural dimensions. It helps to identify how business works in different cultures. Here are few things you have to keep in mind while negotiating: 

  • Power distance
  • Individualism and collectivism
  • Masculinity and femininity
  • Uncertainty avoidance

Let me present an example here: negotiations with people from collectivist countries are more frequently going to occur with teams than between individuals. Expecting to conduct one-on-one bargaining with someone from Japan or China might not be realistic. It also takes a longer time to reach a consensus, as the speed of negotiation will be slower compared to individualistic countries. 

If you're preparing for negotiation with people from cultures with high uncertainty avoidance, watch out. They are more likely to be thorough in planning. While Americans tend to be okay with ambiguity and expect a surprise or two, other cultures would not be comfortable with surprises. People who are high in uncertainty avoidance will also rely more on rules. 

Time and Space Orientations during business negotiations 

One of the cultural characteristics that are most often used to describe different behavior in negotiations is Time Orientation. There are two basic different time orientations across the world:  

  • Monochronic: approaches to time are linear, sequential and involve focusing on one thing at a time - most common in the European-influenced cultures (i.e. United States, Germany, Switzerland, Scandinavia…), Japan, and others 
  • Polychronic: simultaneous occurrences of many things and the involvement of many people and the time it takes to complete interaction is elastic, more important than any schedule - most common in the Mediterranean and Latin cultures (i.e. France, Italy, Greece, Mexico…), some Eastern and African cultures, and others 

Space Orientation is another cultural characteristic often used to describe different behavior in negotiations. It is related to territory, divisions between private and public, comfortable personal distance, comfort or lack of comfort with physical touch and contact, and expectations about where and how contact will take place. Seating arrangements for negotiations should take norms for space into account. For example, Americans tend to talk with people seated opposite them, or at an angle. For the Chinese, these arrangements may lead them to feel alienated and uneasy. They may prefer to converse while sitting side by side. 

Non-verbal Communication 

Throughout human history, for a long time, non-verbal communication was the only means of communication. Grasping the concept of nonverbal communication can provide a better understanding of people. Reducing misunderstandings in communication and negotiation - words are under our conscious control, nonverbal signs are not. There are a few universal non-verbal signs around the world that essentially mean the same thing. Countless others can have a different or even opposite meaning depending on the culture of the person. For example, when projecting negativity, the Chinese usually lean back and make eye contact frequently, whereas Canadians avert their gaze. 

The Danger of Stereotypes 

One common risk of analyzing and studying the negotiator’s culture is that it can lead us to expect that this person will behave like a walking, talking stereotype. For example, relying on stereotypes, you might expect your German counterpart to be exceedingly rigid and punctual. You might expect a Mexican negotiator to communicate expressively and devote a lot of time to rapport-building. However, culture is just one contributor to our identity and behavior. Our profession, personal history, ingrained personality, and experiences also define who we are and how we negotiate. Remember that every person is an individual on their own! Knowledge of a given culture is different from stereotypes and prejudice.  

How to be more successful and effective during international negotiations? Here are few tips:

  1. Do your homework: before you meet the negotiator, try to learn a few words of their language (such as a greeting and expressing gratitude) 

  2. Make sure that you know how to pronounce their names properly

  3. Over-simplification of certain diverse geographical areas, such as Asia, can be quite misleading (Japan is a very distinct culture, very different than any other), so make sure you explore the exact country and its culture beforehand 

  4. Try to connect to other people from that same culture to get a better 

  5. Stay open-minded, even when it comes to things that your culture sees as unusual, unacceptable, or even immoral 

  6. Be aware of how others perceive your own culture 

  7. Emphasize that you intend to respect the cultural differences 

  8. Actively find ways to bridge the culture gap 

  9. Be aware that you will never learn everything, so it is a never-ending 

Don’t forget that understanding all steps of negotiations and their phases are the most important. Keep it in mind during your preparation for international negotiations. Culture has an immense influence on its development in business negotiations. But other factors have to be taken into notice as well. Understanding intercultural communication has never been more crucial. 

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