Bridging Cultures in Negotiation

Shift your strategies and communication style to succeed in global negotiations

The growth of a truly global economy has added richness and near-endless expansion opportunity for many businesses, but has also created a challenge for negotiators as they attempt to translate their skills to meet the needs of discussions with another culture.
In fact, how to navigate discussions with multiple cultures is one of the most commonly asked questions during our negotiation skills training sessions. We’ve distilled the best practices into three key techniques to ensure optimal results in your next multi-cultural negotiation.

Preparation Will Take You Far  

Just as you wouldn’t jet off to a new, exotic locale without first doing your research, the same goes for negotiations. Dedicate a significant portion of your Discovery Phase to learning about the cultural influences that could be at play.
Some cultural preferences to be aware of:

Individual versus Community
In some cultures, showcasing the benefit of the proposed negotiation outcome to the entire organization will have significant impact. In others, highlighting the direct benefit to your counterpart as an individual will help get a deal done. Understanding this weighting of appeal will allow you to shape your proposals effectively. 

Hierarchy versus Equal Power
There is a high importance placed on title and seniority in some cultures, and negotiating as a non-executive or a junior team member will pose challenges in establishing credibility and achieving your best results. You may need to assign leadership of the negotiation to a senior member of your company in order to better match the hierarchical position of a counterpart. 

Task Focus versus Relationship Focus
Making small talk ahead of a negotiation feels like a waste of time to some cultures, while others would prefer to have a long period of relationship building ahead of launching into any discussion of business matters. Whether you open your negotiations with a ‘straight down to business’ approach, or by taking a scenic route through sports, family, and other relationship building subject matter will depend on what you’ve uncovered in Discovery. 

Don’t Forget The People

Though each country tends to have consistent cultural approaches to business, we can’t underestimate the impact of organizational culture and individual personalities. Some large multi-national companies take on a culture all their own, blending aspects from each of the countries they’re based in. It’s worthwhile to explore the culture of your counterpart’s organization by speaking with colleagues that have previously negotiated with them in order to determine this blend.

Similarly, the background of each individual you’ll be negotiating with will need to be taken into account. They may be working for an American organization now, but if they grew up in Japan and completed their schooling in Germany, their individual style and approach to your discussions may not be as clear-cut as you’d initially think. 

Adapt In Real Time

Discovery completed, it’s time to negotiate and put into action the knowledge we’ve gained to bridge the cultural gap. Pay close attention to the feedback you’re getting at the negotiation table, and use it to adapt your approach as you go.

A danger with adjusting our negotiation styles to suit a counterpart is that they are quite likely doing the same. They’ve researched our company, our background, and are attempting to accommodate and influence us in much the same way we are. Sometimes this means that despite our best intentions we over-adjust and miss the mark. If your counterpart’s behaviour is unexpected, or doesn’t hold true to the Discovery you’ve done – adapt.