“What should I do differently when negotiating with someone in Japan or from another culture,” I’m often asked. “Should I still use the strategies you recommend in your book and your seminars?”
Absolutely. And yet, cross-cultural negotiations do present special challenges that must be understood and mastered if you want to most effectively accomplish your goals in that increasingly common international environment.
What are those challenges, and how can you most effectively negotiate in a cross-cultural context? Follow these steps.
1. Learn the fundamental strategies of effective negotiation – they apply in all cultural contexts.
The critical starting point in all negotiations – including in cross-cultural environments – involves a thorough understanding of the strategic elements of effective negotiation. It’s always crucial to learn the fundamentals and know how to negotiate strategically, not instinctively.
For instance, my first Golden Rule – Information is Power-So Get It – applies across the board in all negotiations.
In every negotiation, you should start by getting sufficient information to set your goals, and learn as much as you can about your counterpart and the issues.
You also always will implement my other Golden Rules. For Golden Rule Two – Maximize Your Leverage – you always will want to strengthen your leverage by finding better alternatives to a deal with the other side.
For Golden Rule Three – Employ “Fair” Objective Criteria – you will always want to justify your “fair and reasonable” moves with standards such as market value and precedent.
For Golden Rule Four – Design an Offer-Concession Strategy – you always will want to strategically prepare your offer/concession strategy, and consider if and when to make a first offer.
And for Golden Rule Five – Control the Agenda – you always will seek to control the agenda, either overtly or covertly.
In short, always use these strategies. However, you will not want to implement them in the same way when dealing with individuals from different cultures.
2. Implement these strategies in different ways with different cultures.
Generally, if you are negotiating with a Japanese company, you should share and evaluate information differently than if you are negotiating with a Brazilian company. Information still is power, but how cultures gather, share and interpret information can vary substantially.
For instance, a 2001 study found that U.S. negotiators tend to use fairly direct information-sharing strategies (such as “I prefer a higher salary to a higher signing bonus”), while Japanese tend to use more indirect information-sharing strategies (conveying the same information through a series of changing offers). Japanese negotiators also are less likely to directly say “no” than U.S. negotiators and more likely to simply remain silent.
If you are negotiating with a Japanese company, it is critical to understand these cultural tendencies before you sit down at the table. You then will be extra sensitive to the indirect and subtle signals and messages being sent, signals you might otherwise overlook.
Different cultures also find it more or less acceptable to overtly emphasize your leverage, which might involve a frank discussion of what you and/or the other party would do if you don’t do the deal.
For instance, if you’re negotiating for an artifact in an open marketplace in the Middle East, it is perfectly acceptable (and even expected) to walk out of the negotiation and then come back, at least several times.
In other parts of the world, though, abruptly walking out on the negotiation or even hinting at it may be perceived as a personal slight and may be highly counterproductive.
So what should you do? Investigate your counterpart’s cultural norms and negotiation and communication styles along with their individual styles and strategies before you engage. Then strategically evaluate their negotiation behavior based on those norms and expectations.
3. Exercise patience and understanding.
Cross-cultural negotiations can be frustrating and difficult, even in the best of circumstances. After all, effectively doing it requires a thorough understanding of the additional complexity regarding the parties’ communications with each other. And this is on top of the almost unlimited number of variables already involved in many negotiations.
The final key, then, to successfully negotiating in a cross-cultural context is to exercise patience and believe that the end result will make the added effort worth it.
Hopefully, this won’t present too much of a challenge for many of us with a U.S.-based “cut-to-the-chase” mentality.
Published December 10, 2004 The Business Journal