Cultural awareness is a hugely important aspect of business interaction. Failing to understand how these elements play out in a negotiation can very easily leave you on the back foot.
Effective negotiating is hard enough as it is. You have to understand and be able to effectively read and react to a range of body language, negotiating strategies and understand exactly how far you are prepared to go to achieve your objective. This is made all the harder when international factors are thrown into the mix. Body language, interpersonal behaviours and interpretation of language are all affected differently by different cultures and a number of business thinkers and academics have devoted their energies to identifying and attempting to explore these differences and how they can be understood for greater negotiation success.
Examples of differences in international business negotiations: To ask an Asian business person to make a yes or no decision during negotiation will be highly damaging. Their cultural norm is to avoid displeasing others with negative responses, and they will go to great lengths to avoid ‘losing face’ by admitting that they lack the ability to do something. This is shown particularly in the Thai culture where there isn’t a word meaning ‘no’ in the Thai language! In a similar way French business people will tend to say no outright when they are actually considering options and meaning ‘maybe’.
In other countries, the norm is to give people the answer that they want to hear when they ask a question – which can be highly confusing in business negotiations! This is commonplace in Japan, Mexico or Lebanon.
Maintaining eye contact is viewed as being important in America and those who don’t do it arouse suspicion for being shifty. However in other countries, an attempt to keep eye contact is viewed as being aggressive, and it’s particularly offensive in countries such as Taiwan, South Korea and Japan. However, if you’re negotiating in Saudi Arabia, make sure you do keep open and consistent eye contact, as it’s viewed as being highly important to facilitating communication. There are other more specific cultural differences too, which if not followed, can cause great offence. For example in Saudi Arabia once again, it’s considered to be insulting to ask after the health of the host’s spouse, pass items using the left hand or show the soles of your shoes.
Similarly in Korea, make sure you pass with both hands, and avoid discussing politics or anything related to Japan. Formal greetings and introductions are also very important here and use rank and title when addressing guests.
Relationships are highly valued in many cultures, particularly in Asian and European cultures where the longer-term benefits of a relationship are valued more highly than short term transactions and quick wins. This is often opposite to the views of American business people who value speed and will often negotiate aggressively to achieve short term objectives.
The important thing to note is that whilst it may not be practical to learn a foreign language to carry out a particular negotiation, it can be possible to rapidly learn enough about non-verbal communication for international parties to the procedure, thus avoiding potentially costly errors.
Article by Linguarama:
Linguarama is the right partner for Business Language Training and Cross Cultural Training, whether for individual tuition or corporate language training.
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