I interviewed Maria Koshechkina who discussed Negotiations and the Multi-Cultural Environment.
Brief background of myself
My name is Maria. I am procurement and project management professional with more than 10 years’ experience managing international suppliers and staff, providing successful negotiations in multicultural environment, project management, auditing, designing procurement regulations and delivering tangible operational efficiencies in cross-functional and multinational matrix corporate and non-profit roles.
Introduction to the topic
When negotiating in a multicultural environment, you should be aware of the impact of verbal and nonverbal communications. For instance, simple hand gestures or expressions have various meanings around the world. Unless you are aware of these meanings, you may find yourself in an embarrassing position, which might put you at a disadvantage.
Additionally, it is important to understand the different negotiation styles that exist in contrasting cultures. Generally speaking, the way North Americans or Western Europeans negotiate is different from the way Africans or Asians negotiate. To be successful, you should recognize the cultural style of negotiation you will encounter and modify your approach accordingly.
What is the impact of verbal and nonverbal communications on multicultural negotiations
Nonverbal communication differs significantly among cultures. Therefore, if you are involved in multicultural negotiations, you should never use gestures like hand signals. For instance, one acceptable hand signal in Italy is a terrible insult in China, and a common hand signal in the United States is perceived as an insult in South American countries.
Exhibiting body language that is appropriate in Western Europe is not necessarily appropriate while interacting with a team in the Middle East. For example, while negotiating in the Middle East, it is common to be very physically close to negotiating partners. In such a case, physical distance might be interpreted as unwillingness to negotiate on a personal basis. In contrast, if you are negotiating in Germany and you violate the personal space of a negotiating partner, it could offend the individual and make the situation uncomfortable.
Effective negotiation requires a broad understanding of different styles of communication; this is so you can modify your negotiating style accordingly. North America or Western Europe may be classified as verbal cultures. In cultures such as these, words have a significant meaning, there is a time sensitivity to engage in a discussion and reach compelling points, the logic is linear, there is clarity in the communications, and information is used to stress a point or reach a conclusion.
Asia and Africa, though, may be broadly classified as visual cultures. In these cultures, nonverbal communications are more important than verbal communications, logic is not linear but lateral, and discussions often cover various points before arriving at a conclusion. Emotion and intuition play an important role in negotiations. There may initially be a lack of clarity in communications until a conclusion is reached. These cultures use information not only to exchange facts but to establish association.
What are the major cultural differences in styles of negotiations?
When involved in a multicultural negotiation, you should be aware that different cultures perceive time differently. Time is not an absolute; rather, it’s relative. For example, if you are in Germany and have scheduled a negotiation to start at 10:00 a.m., then you can reasonably expect everyone to be there on time. However, participants will likely not be as punctual in Venezuela or Brazil, for example.
It is critical to remember the sensitivity of time on a global scale; different cultures use time as a pressure point, an enabler, a constraint, a strategy, or as a tactic to gain advantage in a negotiation. Time becomes an issue when Western Europeans and North Americans negotiate in Asia or Africa. Negotiation time for Europeans and North Americans is measured in hours and days, while negotiation times in Asia and Africa are measured in months and years. Therefore, Western Europeans and North Americans should dedicate sufficient time when both preparing for a negotiation and establishing relationships when negotiating with their Asian and African counterparts.
Group dynamics also vary among cultures. For example, if you are negotiating in Japan, you will typically find a tight-knit team with a well-defined leader. If you are negotiating in the United States, however, you may find yourself engaged in simultaneous conversations with three or four different members of the partners’ negotiating team. If you are doing business in Asia or Africa, you may find it difficult to discern who has the decision-making authority.
Another point that affects team leadership and dynamics is the degree of government involvement in negotiations. While in North America and Western Europe the government has a minor or no role in negotiations, in some countries in Asia and Africa, the government plays an influential role in negotiations.
The Pace of Negotiations
As previously discussed, in Asia and Africa, negotiations take place over months, if not years. However, this is not the case with North Americans and Western Europeans, who make the common mistake of thinking they can complete negotiations in days when negotiating with Asian or African partners.
Generally, Western Europeans and North Americans believe negotiations have reached a formal conclusion once their counterparts have signed an agreement. The signing of a contract in Asia, the Middle East, and Africa does not end a negotiation; in fact, it marks the start of negotiations. Consequently, once Western Europeans and North Americans have signed a contract with Chinese, Japanese, or African partners, they may have to renegotiate issues they thought were already finalized.
For Western European and North American cultures, negotiations are concluded once the agreement is signed. Their relationship with suppliers is primarily defined by the formal agreement; therefore, a personal relationship with their partner is not vital.
This is in sharp contrast to the cultures in Asia, Africa, and South America, where negotiations start when the contract is signed. For these cultures, the contract is not the definitive statement of the relationship between negotiating partners; the relationship continues to evolve through negotiations. Such relationships have low business content and high social content. Thus, if you are doing business in Asia or Africa or South America, establishing a personal relationship is critical to your success.
To be an effective negotiator, you should be aware of the key differences in negotiating styles that exist among major cultures. Based on this diversity, you should try and identify your position and that of your partners on issues like the pace of negotiations, the topics of discussion, use of time, and team composition and dynamics.
About Maria Kosechkina
Procurement Project Manager, FF&E and Interiors Freelancer | Helping Companies Translate Their Business Goals to Reality