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Overcoming Barriers In Cross-Cultural Negotiations

Posted October 31, 2014 in Articles

Effective Communication is Key to Achieving Better Results

An effective negotiator understands the point of view of the other party. This is the single most critical component of a successful negotiation. When the other party comes from another country, cultural and language barriers can make this more difficult. Negotiations can fall apart, even though both parties actually agree. Or, you may not achieve the results you want because you misinterpreted the cultural cues.

You can avoid this unfortunate outcome by recognizing the ways in which cultures and languages affect negotiations. Knowing the verbal language is not enough. An effective negotiator is aware of the nuances in the other culture to correctly interpret the underlying meaning and to show respect to the other party throughout negotiations.

Cognitive Constraints

Cognitive constraints refer to the worldviews of a person based on his or her cultural background and which can lay the foundation for processing new information. The parties arrive at the negotiations with the ideas formed by their individual backgrounds. They may be saying the same thing, but interpreting and processing the information differently.

Behavioral Differences

Every culture has its own rules about what is appropriate behavior. Behavioral restraints are the ways in which people act within a given culture. Conduct that is perfectly acceptable in one culture may be considered rude in another. Actions viewed as polite by one culture may be construed as weak by another or, conversely, assertiveness may be seen as brash. Also, expressions of emotion are ripe for misinterpretation. For example, a person who is trained to remain composed may come across as cold or disinterested, whereas a person who is gregarious could be viewed as not taking the proceedings seriously.

Verbal and Nonverbal Communication

Nonverbal communication becomes part of the language within a country or region. A negotiator who is fluent in a language may nonetheless miss important meanings unless he or she is also familiar with the nonverbal cues. Whether a person stands, shakes hands, holds eye contact, points a finger or makes a certain gesture may be perceived very differently in various cultures.

Humor, Cliché and References

The literal translation of a cliché can leave the listener dumbfounded. The actual phrase often offers no indication as to its meaning. Likewise, cultural references can be difficult to recognize in a culture that does not share the fable, story, literature or popular culture from which the reference arises. Humor is perhaps one of the most difficult aspects to translate between people from a similar background, but even more so cross cultures. For this reason, use of humor, clichés and pop references should be carefully considered because of the possibility of confusion and offense.

Mithras Investments, LLC’s global network of consultants understand the language and cultural factors that affect negotiations. We consider these cross-culture aspects when we develop our negotiation strategies and benefit our clients by foreseeing – and resolving - potential obstacles during important business discussions. 

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