I have always wondered what it is that makes cultures different. As a Venezuelan-Greek, with strong British education, I consider myself blessed with the ability to adapt to others. However, in pressured times like the present, cross-cultural negotiations are fraught with difficulty. The pressure to sign the deal or act in a way to impress urgency, can really throw a negotiation off the rails.
Here are some top tips to avoid sabotaging yourself if you will be negotiating with those working with a different cultural lens:
Take time to build the relationship and understand the other parties; not only what they are looking for in interacting with you, but also their relative cultural drivers (the leading indicator is Hofstede’s index on cultural variations.
Communication – be respectful of symbols or associations
Be aware of etiquette in terms of actions as well as symbolisms, which can both inadvertendly impact your discussions negatively . For example, binding documents in a purple folder, may not go down too well in Italy where it is associated with bad luck…
Learn from what we call Cultural Ambassadors
If you work in a multinational corporation track people from the country that you are likely to be engaging with, and discuss how things are done in their countries, the real dos and don’ts in their business culture.
How are decisions made?
Be aware of the relative importance (or not) of hierarchy and power distances. Autocratic behaviour is acceptable in high power-distance countries, such as the Middle East or Africa but clashes with the more equitable Anglo-Saxon cultures.
Timeframes for agreements and negotiations vary; generally, the further east from Europe, the longer the negotiation timeframes. Do not push for quick responses or exert pressure for agreements in China or the Middle East.
Demonstrate sensitivity to gender issues
This is particularly relevant for women in male-dominated culture. A lead female negotiator may face resistance in what are more “masculine” cultures. Whilst in a lot of countries the traditional role of women is changing, best to err on the side of caution and split the chairing of the negotiation with by both a man and a woman.
Want to learn more?
Listen to my interview on Cross Cultural Management for the Women’s Global Leadership Conference in Houston
[wpaudio url="http://www.aquitude.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/11/christina_ioannidis.mp3" text="Interview with Women's Global Leadership Conference"]