Negotiations are part of almost every communication. We talk to come to an agreement with our counterpart. This could be simply to decide on a time for a meeting, to approve a business strategy, or to make a deal. In global business more often than not these negotiations are done using the English language. Whether you are a native speaker or not, the way you use English to negotiate is very likely determined by the cultural wiring of your brain.
In other words, our behavioral preferences drive the way we use the tool of language. Many European and American cultures use a low context communication style which is best described as explicit. In this environment, you communicate well if you use precise language which is simple and clear. Messages are best expressed and understood at face value. If necessary, content blocks are repeated to clarify and to ensure that the recipient comprehends the message unambiguously.
On the other end of the communication spectrum we find many Asian, South American, and Arabic cultures. This style relies on delivering information in a more nuanced and layered way. The French, who are among high context communicators, might call it sophisticated. Not every single element of the message needs to be formulated, recipients in these cultures know how to read between the proverbial lines.
This doesn’t necessarily mean that high context cultures also prefer to be indirect. This is a link which is often assumed and incorrect if you look at countries like Russia or France.
You can find many examples and insights for how to assess the way different cultures communicate and how you can avoid many of the pitfalls in The Culture Map,
a 2014 bestseller by INSEAD professor Erin Meyer,
from which the illustrations in this post are (also check out the episode of The Culture Guy Podcast
during which Erin talks about her work).
In order to negotiate successfully across cultures – to come to a “yes” – it is important to realize that people around the world establish trust in varying ways which aren’t always easily compatible. In task-based cultures like the Netherlands, the U.S., or Germany trust is built through business-related activities. Work relationships can be formed and ended easily, based on whether the connection is practical or beneficial in the given situation. A person becomes trustworthy if they deliver good work consistently, if they are reliable, and if they show that they work towards common goals.
Relationship-based cultures, by contrast, build relationships comparatively slow over the long term. They want to share meals, have an after-hours drink together, and exchange non-work related topics around the water cooler. A person becomes trustworthy if they show their personality, if they display a certain degree of vulnerability, and if they establish friendly rapport. In some cultures, a third and trusted person who vouches for someone’s trustworthiness can tip the scales towards a successful negotiation.
This short video clip will give you more context around the different negotiation styles. For convenience we also include the audio transcript below:
You might be a star negotiator in your own country, but in today’s global economy your skills may not automatically translate to other cultures. For instance, in some cultures it’s entirely appropriate to show emotion during negotiation, to raise your voice, laugh passionately, or even put a friendly arm around your counterpart. In others, this much expression not only feels intrusive or surprising but may be viewed as immature or unprofessional.
Then there’s open disagreement: negotiators often assume that more expressive cultures are also more confrontational, but that isn’t always the case. In some countries such as France and Israel emotions pour out, including disagreement. But for other very expressive cultures – such as Brazil Mexico and Saudi Arabia – open disagreement could be seen as insulting. Some less expressive cultures – such as Denmark Germany and the Netherlands – see open disagreement and debate as positive and necessary as long as its expressed calmly and factually. Others tend to be both, less emotional and non-confrontational, which means you’ll have to be especially attuned to settle cues for both positive and negative responses.
It’s also important to learn how others build trust. There are two distinct types: cognitive and affective, and in a business setting the dominant type of trust varies from one culture to another. Cognitive trust is task-based. It comes from the head and is built on your counterpart’s accomplishment, skills, and reliability.
American culture offers a good example of this kind of trust: in the United States getting too emotionally close to a business counterpart is seen as unprofessional. And mixing the personal and professional is seen as risky.
Affective trust is relationship-based and comes from the heart. It arises from the feelings of emotional closeness, empathy, and friendship that are developed gradually through sharing meals, evening drinks, and coffee breaks. In China for instance, negotiators are unlikely to trust their counterparts until an affective connection has been made.
Adapting your negotiation approach accordingly will help you get to yes, or si, ja, oui, hai and da.
If you would like to find out how your negotiation skills translate to other cultures and what you can do to improve the way you get to an agreement abroad, simply schedule a complimentary consultation call with us
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