Do's and Dont's for Negotiating Across Cultures
Eugene James, Manager, Switzerland, Premium Member
The complexity of cross cultural negotiation is daunting. Miscommunication can hinder or derail a deal. According to Erin Meyer, the challenge stems from an inability to read signals that reveal a frame of mind and emotions. A primary reason for not reading signals boils down to a lack of "contextual understanding" according to Meyer. She draws on her research to offer advice on negotiating cross culturally:
Source: Erin Meyer, "Getting to si, ja, oui, hai, and da", Harvard Business Review, December 2015.
- BEG TO DIFFER TACTFULLY: prior to voicing disagreement, identify whether the counterpart uses "upgrades" in their communication such as definitely, surely, certainly or instead "downgraders" such as perhaps, possibly, likely. A greater use of upgraders implies greater room for debate and open disagreement. In contrast, a greater use of downgraders suggests reluctance to openly disagree and are thus less confrontational.
- EXPRESS EMOTIONS MINDFULLY: in some cultures emotions are openly expressed, while in others being open it is regarded as unprofessional. Thus accordingly adapt communication and responses. For instance avoid over-reacting to someone who is very expressive, while not taking offense by someone who is not overly emotional.
- CULTIVATE TRUST SUITABLY: trust emanates from a cognitive process or through affective sensitivity. In the former, one focuses on the task and interests. In the latter, one cultivates a relationship. In some cultures, it is necessary to first cultivate the relationship prior to talking about business.
- POSE OPEN ENDED QUESTIONS: it is tempting to expedite an agreement and to quickly get all answers. However in some cultures, a yes means no and vice versa. In order to avoid a yes-no dichotomy, pose open ended questions to iron out details step by step.
- VERIFY BEFORE SIGNING AN AGREEMENT: contracts are essential. However in some cultures contracts can represent merely a starting point. Thus be prepared to revise contracts along the way.