3 steps to avoiding a negotiation culture clash

By Natalie Reynolds, Founder & CEO, advantageSPRING

The growth of a truly global economy has bought businesses around the world closer together, but this has also created a challenge for negotiators as they attempt to translate their skills to meet the needs of discussions with another culture. 

In fact, how to navigate discussions with multiple cultures is one of the most commonly asked questions during our negotiation skills training sessions. We’ve distilled the best practices into three key techniques to ensure optimal results in your next multi-cultural negotiation. 

1. Preparation will take you far

You wouldn’t jet off to a new, exotic locale without knowing anything about the place. The same goes for negotiations. Dedicate a significant portion of your discovery phase to learning about the cultural influences that could be at play. Some cultural preferences to be aware of include the below:

  • Individual vs. Community In some cultures, showcasing the benefit of the proposed negotiation outcome to the entire organisation will have a significant impact. In others, highlighting the direct benefit to your counterpart as an individual will help get a deal done. Understanding this weighting of appeal will allow you to shape your proposals effectively. 


  • Hierarchy vs. Equal power There is a high level of importance placed on title and seniority in some cultures, and negotiating as a non-executive or a junior team member will pose challenges in establishing credibility and achieving your best results. You may need to assign the leadership of the negotiation to a senior member of your company in order to better match the hierarchical position of a counterpart. 


  • Task focus vs. Relationship focus Making small talk ahead of a negotiation feels like a waste of time in some cultures, while others would prefer to have a long period of relationship building ahead of launching into any discussion of business matters. Whether you open your negotiations with a “straight down to business” approach, or by taking the scenic route via the topics of sports, family, and so forth, will depend on what you’ve uncovered in the discovery phase.


2. Don’t assume anything

Though each country tends to have consistent cultural approaches to business, we can’t underestimate the impact of organisational culture and individual personalities. Some large multi-national companies take on a culture of their own which transcends borders. It’s worthwhile to explore the culture of your counterpart’s organisation by speaking with colleagues that have previously negotiated with them.

Similarly, the background of each individual you’ll be negotiating with will need to be taken into account. They may be working for an American organisation now, but if they grew up in Japan and completed their schooling in Germany, their individual style and approach to your discussions may not be as clear-cut as you’d initially think.

3. Adapt in real time

Discovery phase completed, it’s time to negotiate and put into action the knowledge you’ve gained to bridge the cultural gap. Pay close attention to the feedback you’re getting at the negotiation table, and use it to flex your approach as you go.

A danger with adjusting our negotiation styles to suit a counterpart is that they are quite likely doing the same. They’ve researched our company, our background, and are attempting to accommodate and influence us in much the same way we are. If your counterpart’s behaviour is unexpected, or doesn’t hold true to the research you’ve done – adapt.

Thank you for reading! For more useful advice and insights about the world of work, visit our dedicated blog page here or click on one of the links below.