Intercultural Negotiations and the Fog of Uncertainty

Knowledge is power. Whether you believe that this principle applies in real life or not, it is definitely true when it comes to negotiations. To have a clear picture of the current situation (the other party’s interests, how far you can go without upsetting them etc.) is a big advantage. But misreading other people is something that happens all the time in negotiations, especially if the other party comes from a culture unfamiliar to you.

What are her values, what is she interested in, what is her hidden agenda?  You should have answers to these questions. Yet to assume that your assumptions about her values are correct is dangerous. Observing your negotiation partner and changing your assumptions about her as the negotiation develops is even more important when you are dealing with the ambiguity of a culturally diverse setting.

Forget the past, forget the future, live in the now. Pay full attention to your negotiation partner, listen attentively and understand what it is she needs and expects. Do not rush into judgment too quickly – the fog of uncertainty makes it impossible to predict anything with full accuracy.

It is just too easy to misread informational cues in negotiations. This is especially so when your negotiation partner has a completely different cultural background than you. Andy Molinksi invented a model that describes people’s expectations of behaviour in a foreign setting. He describes six dimensions:

  • Directness
  • Enthusiasm
  • Formality
  • Assertiveness
  • Self-promotion
  • Personal disclosure

All of these dimensions can have a direct impact on your perception about your negotiation partner’s behaviour. And vice versa. Directness is probably the most obvious factor here. The indirect way people communicate in Asia can often lead to confusion from a western perspective. While you think the reaction of the other party shows that she approves of your suggestions, in reality she might think that it is a completely stupid idea. She is just being polite to respect you. If you lack the sensitivity to see these cultural nuances, you will never understand her real intentions and it will be impossible to conclude the deal.

Personal disclosure can also be a big issue here. Let’s say you are an experienced salesman and you know it is important to learn as much about your prospective client. You do your best to find out what her dreams are and to give her exactly what she expects. The problem is that she comes from a culture where it is simply not appropriate to disclose information about herself to a stranger. What will you do? Push her to share more about herself? Offer her a solution based on nothing but luck?

Both cases require you to be culturally sensitive. You need to have an understanding about the culture your negotiation partner comes from, yet a mere understanding is not enough. The next step is to figure out where your personal comfort zone overlaps with that of your negotiation partner. How can you trigger her to disclose more about her wants and needs without making her feel uncomfortable? How can you find out what her real opinion about your suggestions is without forcing her to be too direct? Find a creative way that works for you both!

If you want to know more about negotiation and global dexterity, I encourage you to read “The Art of Negotiation” by Michael Wheeler and “Global Dexterity” by Andy Molinksi. Most of the ideas expressed in this article where sparked by these two books.

And lastly: have you ever encountered a situation where you had to negotiate with someone from a different cultures than yours? Share your experiences with us in the comment section! What challenges did you face, what made you uncertain or even anxious and how did you cope with these problems? Let’s discuss!







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