Negotiation Across Borders: The Top Factors to Consider When Dealing with Different Cultures
Organizational Behavior and Cross Cultural Communication
The art of negotiation is very important in any business interaction dealing with various cultures. Before classifying what makes a successful negotiator from an unsuccessful negotiator, let’s define what negotiation is.
Negotiating is the art of influencing and communicating with members of cultures other than your own, with the goal of persuading the other side to change their position. (Adler, 2008)
Global negotiations contain all of the complexity of domestic negotiations, with the added dimension of cultural diversity. To prepare for global negotiations, negotiators try to predefine what the situation should look like through the eyes of the other country. While most may think of using words to persuade others, there are many other factors that are critical in a successful negotiation such as negotiation place, sitting set up, and the verbal and nonverbal expression tactics.
There are many factors that vary according to culture, but these are all factors that are considered across different cultures. For example, the location of a meeting should be at a neutral location. However, to gain an advantage in a negotiation, it helps to be in a familiar environment, such as your home country. Business entertainment is a common type of neutral location, used primarily to know and improve relations with members of the opposing team. This is a very common practice in countries such as Japan where they spend more on business entertainment than they spend on their national defense after World War II (Adler, 2008).
Physical Arrangements as Primal Techniques
Another important component of the negotiation factor is that of physical arrangements. In traditional American negotiations, the two opposing teams sit facing each other, which maximizes competition. Research shows that sitting at right angles eases cooperation and allows both parties to view the process as a collaborative event for mutually beneficial outcomes. In other words, this setup fosters collaboration rather than competition. Lastly, both parties can choose to sit on the same side, “facing the problem”, in order to show that both sides are competing with the problem rather than the people, which is a common practice in Japan. All of these tactics are ways to use primal techniques to activate concepts below a person’s threshold of awareness, and ultimately affects people’s subsequent judgement and behaviors. (Brett & Thompson, 2016) The strategy of separating the people from the problem implies that negotiators can reject their partner’s suggestions without rejecting the people themselves, essentially meaning they can disagree without labeling them negatively.
Power in Numbers
The number of participants is yet another implicit component which affects negotiation in terms of power, more specifically, social views of power. The social view of power emphasizes the extent to which an individual or group is respected or admired by others which leads to an obedience from the opposing party. (Magee & Galinsky, 2008) The physical presence of more people communicates greater power and importance while also giving the team an advantage of more manpower to focus on discussion and nonverbal cues from the opposing party.
Time as a Strategy
Perhaps one of the most common overlooked components is time. The duration of a negotiation varies across cultures and this can be a direct issue during global negotiations. Americans tend be very impatient and expect results as soon as possible and this sense of urgency puts Americans at a disadvantage in bargaining because of the reputation and implicit assumptions that can be made due to this fact. Other countries recognize that the Americans will do anything in order to close the deal and will make more concessions close to their deadlines. Americans generally negotiate sequentially and make many small concessions throughout a bargain and then finalize the list as their overall argument. Many Asians and most Russian negotiators on the other hand make very few concessions and rarely reciprocate the other party’s concessions.
Verbal versus Nonverbal Cues
Many of these external factors are crucial in setting up a prime environment for negotiation. However, the deal cannot be made without actual negotiation tactics, which include both verbal and nonverbal cues. Most Americans consider verbal tactics to be most important, however, most other countries pay attention primarily to nonverbal cues.
Some studies show that up to 90% of communication is nonverbal (Zhou 2008). Another study showed that words communicate only 7% of meaning, while tone of voice communicates 38% and facial expression communicates 55% (Adler 2008).
Verbal tactics here would include things such as the number of questions asked, the number of commitments made prior to a final agreement, and even the amount of initial request. Factors such as these either increase or decrease throughout the agreement and vary by culture. Most negotiators start by having high expectations and making high initial offers, followed by questions and bargaining, only to make commitments in the final stage of the negotiation.
Nonverbal tactics involve how words are said rather than the words themselves. This includes facial expressions, body distance, gestures, timing, silences, and tone of voice. Nonverbal cues can send multiple messages, most of which are responded to subconsciously. Once again, nonverbal cue are taken differently per culture. For example, Japan uses silence the most while Brazilians use almost none at all. Another nonverbal cue is the exact opposite of silence, conversational overlaps. Brazilian negotiators interrupt each other twice as more than American or Japanese negotiators. The interpretation of this can vary between cultures, but generally is seen as rude and disrespectful behavior, which could impact agreements. Lastly, facial gazing, in particular eye contact, is another common form of nonverbal communication. The amount of eye contact determines the level of intimacy of a relationship but can get complicated when overdone or not done enough. In America, eye contact is a sign of trust and respect, whereas in other more traditional cultures it is not appreciated.
All in all, global negotiation is a complex dynamic which must be approached with great understanding and preparation. It is important to understand not only how to negotiate verbally, but also how to create the most optimal negotiation environment for all parties through external factors as well as paying attention to nonverbal cues, which may not be so obvious.
Adler, N., & Gundersen, A (2008). How Cultural Differences Affect Organizations. In International Dimensions of organizational behavior (pp. 224–261 ) Australis; South-Western Cengage Learning
Brett, J., & Thompson, L. (2016). Negotiation. Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, 136 68–79. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.obhdp.2016.06.003
Zhou, H., & Zhang, T. (2008). Body language in business negotiation. International Journal of Business and Management, 3(2), 90–96.
Magee, J. C., & Galinsky, A. D. (2008, November). The self-reinforcing nature of social hierarchy: Origins and consequences of power and status. In IACM 21st annual conference paper.