Leadership & Collaboration

Webinar Notes: Negotiating Across Cultures

Webinar Notes: Negotiating Across Cultures

This week’s featured webinar notes are from a recent IACCM event called ‘Negotiating Across Cultures: Understanding the Differences, Avoiding the Pitfalls’ which was hosted by Tim Cummins and Karen Walch. If you are an IACCM member, you can view the event on demand after logging in on their site.

When I registered for the event, I assumed it would be a very straightforward (albeit interesting) overview of the best tactics for surviving negotiations with suppliers in other countries. While IACCM did not disappoint on that front, the most interesting part of the event – a look at internal applications of culture differences – was fascinating, and made for a lot to think about post event.

Cultural differences certainly exist between countries and regions, but they exist at more granular levels as well. Just as no one living in Europe would say there is one cultural profile there, the U.S. contains a number of cultural differences. These differences incorporate political and social history and often exhibit as varying expectations of fairness and individual voice. The same competencies that allow people in different countries to successfully conduct business are required for staff at a corporate headquarters to interact with subsidiaries abroad.

Communication is a key difference between cultures, but the challenges are not limited to language or translation issues. Communication style is just as important: pace of speech, listening skills, and varying degrees of directness, for example. Being able to take a non-judgmental approach to recognizing and handling these differences in style, can make or break an effort. Ongoing coaching and mindfulness, along with sufficient time to adjust, are required for people of different styles to work together successfully.

On an individual level, Tim and Karen shared two high-level styles of communication:

  • Low context: the entire content of a speaker’s message is contained in their words.
  • High context: body language and non-verbal cues are just as important (if not more) that the words being spoken

While a communicator of either context level may feel their approach is best, or at least the most natural for them, it is more important to acknowledge the role of context in a negotiation or interaction – particularly if the method of communication is likely to cause an issue. For instance, having a very sensitive discussion with a high context communicator should be done in person rather than via email on the phone so as to capture the full meaning of their message.

When looking to build relationships across cultures, whether individual, organizational or national, there are a few assumptions that should be challenged and clarified:

  • What attitudes or behaviors are being reinforced through compensation or other rewards?
  • How to people think? Are they deductive (top down - general truths are applied to specific circumstances) or inductive (bottom up - conclusions drawn from specific circumstances are summarized as general truths)?
  • Which side of the deal is the relationship formed on: pre-contract or post?

Both of the event’s speakers will also be presenting at the Global Summit on Negotiation in Phoenix, AZ on November 8-10, 2013.

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