I recently attended a program on the intercultural dynamic affecting many negotiations these days, and it highlighted for me three elements we must understand in these environments. Much of this analysis derives from the work of Professor Jeswald Salacuse of the University of Western Ontario School of Business.
• Beware of cultural stereotypes; research the individual.
Americans like to “cut to the chase” and Asians tend to be relationship-oriented, right? Not so fast. While cultural tendencies exist, you might mess up your deal if you make too much out of stereotypical assumptions about cultures.
In fact, the professor leading our session told us a recent study found that most cultural stereotypes are wrong when analyzed based on how individuals in that culture actually act.
This makes sense. Given our country’s diversity and each individual’s background, concluding that all Americans share a specific cultural tendency would be a stretch. A Bronx-raised musician will likely have little in common with a native Hawaiian car dealer. Other countries have similar diversity.
What should you do? Research the styles and strategies of the individual sitting across the table. Speak with those who have actually negotiated with him/her before, and make your own assessment of how he/she will likely act.
Of course, don’t completely discount the relevance of cultural tendencies, as some may be based on fact. But don’t assume cultural tendencies – even if true – will apply to your counterpart.
• Assess where your counterpart lies on the relationship – contract continuum.
Last year, I did some training in Singapore, and I recall working through some issues relating to my discomfort in taking a 17-hour flight without an ironclad contract with all the i’s dotted and t’s crossed.
In addressing this, I realized my discomfort arose in part because of our different cultural perspectives on the relative importance of the relationship vs. the contract. My counterpart was focusing more intently on our long-term relationship and I – while also focusing on the relationship – was more intent on nailing down the contractual elements.
In fact, various cultures typically tend to view the relative importance of relationships vs. contracts in different ways. While these two goals are often not mutually exclusive, it can be counterproductive to focus too much on the legal elements of a contract too early, especially if your counterpart’s cultural and individual tendencies are very relationship-oriented.
• Different cultures tend to communicate differently.
Do you communicate in a direct “just the facts” fashion without much regard for whether your statement will lead to conflict? Or do you view and communicate on issues more holistically in an indirect way that often avoids explicit conflict?
Different cultures and individuals fall on various points on this direct-indirect continuum, and it pays to find out where your counterpart lies. Being sensitive to different communication styles can avoid serious miscommunications.
Published May 6, 2010 The Arizona Republic