BLG Leadership Insights Managerial Competence

Culture & Negotiations: 6 Rules To Follow and 5 Hazards to Avoid

I’ve spent the past few weeks in Israel where I’ve been training a group of leaders and working with people from different cultural backgrounds. I was struck by two things:

  • Culture is important.
  • People have a misunderstanding about how culture comes into play in negotiations.

Negotiations occur in a context, be it situational, personal, or cultural. When you are negotiating with a party from a different background, you need to understand their culture and how it may affect their view of the world and their behavior. You’ve got to understand where they are coming from….literally.

While personality, interests, and issues are important to anticipate, you also need to consider the culture of the individual you are negotiating with.

Consider the following the 6 points when anticipating culture’s impact on your next negotiation:

1. Cultural pride determines whether and how negotiations occur.

2. Culture determines not only what is negotiated, but also what is not negotiable.

3. Cultural pride and status might form a wall that’s impossible to climb.

4. Culture determines the importance of personal relationships–in some cultures it’s critical to test personal relationships before you get into the details of negotiations.

5. Culture influences the type of response you get.

6. Culture governs whether power games are important.

So, keep culture in mind.

What’s Culture?

Culture results from psycho-social factors that shape values, establish a sense of collective and a sense of ideology. Understanding culture requires the ability to interpret ethnicity, region, and nationalism. It’s knowing what factors influence certain groups.

But there’s a difference between understanding culture and using culture in order to achieve your goals.

So you think you understand me because you know something about me? Do you think you have the upper hand in negotiations because you know think you know something about my culture?

Not so fast.

Culture Only Goes So Far…

1. Culture is only a frame. Sensitivity to culture may eliminate obstacles to communication, but not necessarily give you the upper hand.

2. Negotiations may be smoother if you understand the culture, but understanding does not ensure a more favorable outcome. Knowing culture lifts the fog between you–not the differences.

3. You’re dealing with individuals. Be careful not to generalize.

4. Understand your own cultural context and how others from different cultural backgrounds may regard you.

5. Don’t bet your farm on your ability know it all. Don’t bet your farm because you know what all Russians think like or what all Japanese enjoy. Don’t bet your farm on being a cultural expert.

Remember, it’s one thing to appreciate culture so you can be sensitive to the context in which relationships emerge and continue; it’s quite another to use it to gain the upper hand.