CHAPTER NINE: INTERCULTURAL MEETINGS AND NEGOTIATIONS
DR. TROY WIWCZAROSKI ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR DEBRECEN UNIVERSITY
LO 1: Several important, current trends on how international business meetings are conducted LO 2: Negotiation and meeting styles of several countries and types of cultures will be discussed as examples of how differences shape such communication LO 3: How to organize business negotiations and to hold meetings in an international setting, for which a summary of key points will be given to provide navigational guides LO 4: How to use a tool box of tactics to deal with general cultural and business differences, in order to be more effective
The basics There are several important, current trends on how international business meetings are conducted about which any business professional should have some basic awareness. While there are many key differences in cultures one needs to understand to successfully negotiate and/or hold meetings with counterparts from other cultures, one must be mindful of the fact that there will always be minefields.
In other words, while the corporate culture of a multinational company might be geared towards harmonizing - as much as possible - acceptable forms of behavior among employees and with one’s business partners, the rapidity of change in some societies as to what is ‘acceptable’ behavior and what is not can be frustrating. Adding to such notions the elements of age group, regional differences and the local understanding of e.g. what constitutes ‘free speech’, then one quickly realizes that grasping what is an acceptable trend at a location one has travelled to in the conduct
of business may be something utterly opposite to that which would be allowed at one’s home office. As a general rule, one must always strive to be respectful of one’s counterparts - wherever they are from - while conforming to one’s own corporate rules on ethical conduct.
When meeting in business with others who are from quite different cultural backgrounds, there are several general areas of reference which one must use as a general guide to avoiding disrespectful behavior or committing a social faux pas.
The first of these general areas is gender roles. In international business, gender roles can present one with a number of problems. While understanding the appropriate gender etiquette understood as the norm by one’s business partner makes it possible to avoid uncomfortable or unfortunate situations, one should remember that the person one is meeting and/or negotiating with might be just as uncertain about how to behave properly with a member of the opposite sex. More seriously, depending on the culture they are from, you might end up being the one who is offended by what you might perceive as impossible behavior on their part.
In business, gender roles often refer to personal boundaries and regulate physical contact between - but not exclusively - men and women. Age difference might also be a contributing factor. There are, for example, many countries where women are forbidden from shaking hands with men. Arab countries come to mind as primary examples, but there are other, less well-known ones, such as Japan. This is where age makes a difference. In Japan, older generations of people are often uncomfortable shaking hands with women, and this is especially true if the woman in question is not Japanese.
Being denied a handshake is very difficult for one to accept, especially is one originates from a culture where shaking hands is the most common and respected form of greeting in business or in one‘s private life. Another area of difficulty is accepting that not every kind of handshake is proper. In fact, while the handshake is the most common greeting worldwide, there are any number of variations, not only in the how but in the when to use them: e.g., are handshakes also used before
and after a meeting, to express gratitude/thanks or even agreement? Be aware that what works in one part of the world simply might not work in another and suspend your judgement of others if they do not shake hands the same way you do.
Another example: in business, one is generally advised to welcome a business partner with a firm, steady grip when shaking hands. Yet, in some countries and cultures, the firm handshakes so welcomed in North America and Scandinavia are understood as being rude or even as a sign of aggression. Take, for example, China, North, Southern and Western Africa or even much of South America. In these sizable parts of the world, handshakes are usually lighter and might even last much longer than what one understands to be proper etiquette in Western countries. There are even countries and cultures, e.g. Brazil and Morocco, where handshakes are usually given with light kisses on the cheek. Remarkably for those who have never visited or worked in those countries, the kisses are not just offered to friends, but also given in serious business circumstances. For a list
http://mentalfloss.com/article/54063/what-proper-handshake-etiquette-around-world. Personal space is the second general area that may cause problems and oneâ€™s understanding of what denotes personal space varies greatly due to many reasons. People from the United States are famous for their need for a great deal of personal space and not allowing just anybody into it. However, overgeneralization is a trap: while a Texan would usually require more personal space and become uncomfortable with too much closeness, a resident of New York City might not understand the problem. The latter is much more used to inescapable crowds and might feel quite comfortable in a cramped space to conduct business, while the former might not show an appreciation of the same situation. While the Spanish, Italians or the French might be more physical and offer kisses on the cheek, the Finns are a prime example of a culture in which personal space is prized and the offer of a kiss on the cheek in greeting would cause some consternation.
Personal space includes the elements of touching, as well. While business partners from South American countries can be more physical, even in a business context, than Americans would be, those from many Asian countries would be even less tolerant of e.g., a hand placed on the shoulder. Yet, in some countries, business colleagues who have formed a close working relationship and
who greatly respect one another might even hold hands - as long as they are both of the same gender - e.g. Saudi Arabia.
Negotiation and meeting styles
In light of only these very few elements of cultural difference among us as human beings, it should be clear to you that you should always prepare for international business dealings carefully. By appropriately preparing yourself, whether by reading about doing business with a specific culture, discussing with a more practiced colleague his/her experiences in meeting with/negotiating with business counterparts from a specific culture before you do, you can lay the foundation for easier discussions in your own business dealings.
It sounds so simple, but just how should you start your preparations for international business meetings/negotiations? Below, there are a few tips to help you: •
Once you know where you are going to be doing business, start learning about the culture.
For example, you can find astonishingly valid and detailed information on other cultures from online travel blogs and printed travel guides. These are usually written in a very easy to read, straightforward style - even more, they are written firsthand by individuals who have years of experience with the culture you are about to encounter for the first time. •
Learning about the culture of your business counterpart before you meet them will not only
give you an advantage, but just by doing so, your willingness to try to prepare shows respect towards him/her, as well. •
Do not worry about making every little mistake. Anyone can make an honest mistake.
However, you can create a lot of goodwill before such a mistake happens, simply by showing genuine interest toward your counterpart’s culture. Moreover, by gaining a basic understanding of the culture you are venturing into before you travel, you will gain confidence. People are usually more nervous about what they do not understand, so forewarned is forearmed.
Remember also to remain focused on the purpose of your travel: Why are you having this
meeting? What are you there to negotiate? If the agenda for your stay includes attending events outside an office setting, such as a dinner at a restaurant, what does this usually imply when conducting business with that culture? Does it necessarily mean that you are supposed to conduct business over or after your meal or is the dinner culturally necessary to build trust, and should discussing business be avoided? This is one situation where having prepared in advance and possessing some basic knowledge of the local business etiquette can keep you on the right path. •
Similarly, you need to have a basic understanding of what is expected of all attendees at
the officially scheduled business meeting. Business meetings vary greatly in subject content and intention from culture to culture. If you are conducting business in a country such as Turkey, the ‘official’ business meeting may predominantly be made up of what a Westerner would consider small talk, but in Ankara, this ‘small talk’ will form the trust building, without which no business would ever be discussed. Learning to be good at making small talk in such cultural settings can be the key element to negotiation success - even as much as agreeing on prices. On the other hand, in countries such as Germany, spending too much time trying to engage your counterpart in small talk, instead of getting straight to the point set down on the agenda, could get you accused of stalling, being unprepared or even just plain unprofessional. The Germans could get quite upset by your disrespect of their precious time.
Navigating different cultures in business
However you prepare for a meeting or a negotiation with someone from another culture, there are several key areas you must be knowledgeable about, in order to move your business forward. These elements are shown in the table below as cultural responses to specific negotiation factors. Negotiation factors are elements which influence the behaviour of the individual or team doing the negotiating, as well as what is focused on as important and the corresponding desired outcome of a specific negotiation process. The cultural responses to each of the individual negotiation elements found in the table below denote how an individual or team from a specific culture could view these factors, as they culturally interpret/respond to them:
NEGOTIATION FACTORS Goal/Target Attitudes Personal Styles Communication Time Sensitivity Emotionalism Agreement Form Agreement Building Team Organization Risk-taking
CULTURAL RESPONSES Contract or Relationship Win/Lose, Lose/Win, Lose/Lose or Win/Win Informal or Formal Direct or Indirect High or Low High or Low Specific or General Bottom Up or Top Down One Leader or Consensus High or Low
Briefly discussing a few of the factors and their corresponding cultural responses from the table above, ď‚ˇ
The focus on winning a contract or placing oneâ€™s business relationship first as the goal of a negotiation process was an element discussed in the previous chapter on Negotiation Styles. This is the Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument to illustrate how basic styles of human behaviour in individuals influences outcomes, and also addresses the second factor of attitudes during a business meeting/negotiation:
Source: Kilmann, R. H., and Thomas, K. W., 1977.
Personal styles and communication are factors best illustrated in the chart below. Personal styles may be influenced by how well an individual knows you vis-à-vis how (un)free that individual is within the constraints of his/her (business) cultural norms to speak formally or informally to you. In the German language, for example, there is a clear distinction made between the formal form of the word YOU (Sie) and its informal form (Du), and this distinction remains in place as grammar affects lexicographic changes in sentences (e.g., Sie/Ihnen vs. Du/Dir/Dich). Many languages have similar differences in the words one may use for YOU, to denote respect, in deference to authority and/or to express (in)formality when speaking to another person. Regardless of the sociolinguistic rules, the individual in German society may choose to forego these rules and attempt to build trust and create camaraderie with a counterpart by offering to use first names and the informal form for YOU, especially if using German as the language of a meeting/negotiation. Why he/she would choose to do so might be suspicious, a tactic to get the counterpart to lower one’s guard, but it may also equally be an honest offer of friendship between business partners in a case in which the German knows the business relationship may last many years and be key to one’s success. However, the German style of communicating from a cultural standpoint is 1) more commonly confrontational and 2) emotionally unexpressive.
By this, the following is meant: 1) A German might show anger by raising his/her voice in situations where s/he feels time is being wasted by your being unprepared for a meeting with a preset agenda and 2) the German might use the passive voice to express this frustration (e.g., “The agenda is to be followed if progress is to be made today.” instead of the more direct “I wish you would follow the agenda, so we can make progress today”) The passive voice, depending on how the sentence is actually voice, might sound quite threatening, indeed, to a native English speaker’s ear.:
Source: Meyer, Erin, 2015.
Organising business negotiations and holding meetings in an international setting: a toolbox of tactics
When organizing a meeting or a negotiation with counterparts from other cultures or countries, there are several areas about which one should be mindful, in order to avoid conflict or misunderstanding:
Prepare for difference. Taking the time to familiarize yourself with the culture of one’s business partner can save you a lot of frustration. This does not mean that everything will go smoothly, but you can at least gain some understanding of the cultural norms behind your counterpart’s actions/behavior.
Prepare for the gap. A negotiation is all about attempting to overcome differences in e.g., price, quality expectations, deadline expectations for payment and delivery or even differences in how one defines good service. In entering a negotiation process without clarity on what one wants vis-à-vis what one actually needs, as well as attempting to figure out and anticipate the answers to those same questions as pertains to one’s counterpart, then one is setting themselves up for failure. Therefore, before the actual face to face meeting, clarify the mandate your company has given you, as well as its expectations on you. Then, try discussing or sending your counterpart an agenda containing what is important for your company. Even if you get pushback, you have learned something about other side’s strategy and expectations.
Be patient. A negotiation process is just that: it is a process. This means it takes time to get the full picture. Events unfold and evolve, so let them - and try to steer them in your favor while they do so. Be aware of when someone is trying to actually provoke you and when the other is simply being themselves culturally - even if you find it confusing. For example, a businessperson from India will never directly tell you No. They will change the subject. So, if you ask them whether they can deliver products by a certain date and they start talking about last year’s monsoon, you just received your No. To misunderstand that is to behave in an uncivilized manner in their eyes. Therefore, prepare yourself on the culture of your counterpart and try to understand possible cultural reasons behind their behavior. Think outside of your ‘normal’ cultural box.
When in doubt, check for understanding. A question, especially one asked in a respectful manner, can rarely cause harm. It can also save you embarrassment, misunderstanding or even an argument. By expressing your willingness to better understand the other, you are building trust - the basis for agreement in business in most cultures.
Slow down. Especially when dealing with someone who does not speak the language being used in the process well, try to speak slower, avoid long sentences and using complex language. By keeping your sentences and vocabulary as simple as possible, you can help yourself as much as you help them. Phrasal verbs and slang are two examples of linguistic elements that can cause confusion easily. Understand that this is potentially embarrassing for them. They might have decades of business experience, just not with your culture. Put
yourself in their shoes: how you would feel trying to negotiate in another language you were not completely fluent in?
Listen. One fundamental strategy for any good negotiator is to let the other side talk their way into giving up information. By making them re-explain themselves and answer lots of questions, you are not only getting them to open up, but you are even potentially making their egos feel respected. Both are positive developments.
Be clear on how decisions will be made and ensure that they are, too. There are huge cultural differences on how companies and those within a business hierarchy make decisions. In more hierarchical countries, such as Japan, the CEO or the highest local manager is the only one who will make the final decision, and you might never meet that person - even over the course of a long, protracted negotiation process. If you do not understand this when going into a negotiation or business meeting, you may find yourself renegotiating from the beginning again with the decision-maker later. Ambiguity on this question can even be a negotiation strategy to delay, frustrate and win concessions from you, should you be unable to handle the complexity of negotiating with a ‘messenger’ from the big boss. Remember: if you disrespect the ‘messenger’, you disrespect the big boss, too. Try to make the ‘messenger’ your advocate with the big boss.
Stay professional. As with the previous example, some cultures want to test you, in order to find weaknesses in you or even to check your story for holes. They might interpret any loss of temper as disrespectful or unprofessional and use your misbehavior as the excuse they need to break off any further discussions. (Wiwczaroski & Richter, 2018)
For more information on the topics introduced in this chapter, you may wish to read from its sources: Kilmann, R. H., and Thomas, K. W. 1977. “Developing a Forced-Choice Measure of ConflictHandling Behavior: The MODE Instrument.” Educational and Psychological Measurement, Vol. 37, No. 2, 309-325.
Lewis, Richard D. 1996. When Cultures Collide: Managing Successfully Across Cultures. London; Sonoma, Calif.: N. Brealey Publishers. Meyer, Erin. 2014. The Culture Map: Breaking Through the Invisible Boundaries of Global Business. New York: Public Affairs. ---.
December 2015. “Getting to Si, Ja, Oui, Hai, and Da”. Harvard Business Review Online. https://hbr.org/2015/12/getting-to-si-ja-oui-hai-and-da?referral=00060. Accessed 20 April 2019.
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