Regardless of your culture, respect and understanding are essential for social and economic success. When different cultures interact, misunderstandings can occur when there is a mismatch of behaviors, gestures, and words. If your position requires you to travel overseas or to conduct business with a different culture, do not lose a negotiation because you did not understand the cultural psychological dynamics.

To succeed in cross cultural negotiations, remember the following advice:

Your language = Power

Maintain negotiation power by using your native language. Verbal fluency gives power. Just remember, however, if the other party concedes to your language, they may be less eager to make other concessions.

If the other side dictates the language, make sure you are familiar with that culture's verbal cues or subtle, non-verbal language. Missing subtle points will work against you. Regain a language advantage, by asking for clarification. This technique can slower the pace when you might need more time to consider your next move or gain further clarity.

Remember that although most cultures will be pleased by you speaking their language, they will not be as forgiving if you make language cultural errors. If you do not speak their language fluently, play it safe by sticking to your own language.

Finally, confirm all concessions and check for accidental language misinterpretations. Be certain the other party has understood your negotiation points correctly by asking questions or summarizing your points throughout the conversation.

If you feel it is appropriate, hire an interpreter. Just be sure that he or she is professionally neutral and properly skilled, will translate both verbal and nonverbal language, and fully understands the negotiation process and the objectives of your particular negotiation.

TIP: To succeed in another culture, you must be able to understand and engage in behaviors that are recognizable, predicable, and expected.

Culture is perception.

Gestures can mean different things to different cultures. For example, a 'thumbs up' = "great!" in North America and the United Kingdom but is the same as "giving the middle finger" in Greece.

Nodding your head means "yes" in the North America and Western Europe, but means "no" in Armenia, Bulgaria, and Turkey.

Viewpoints of a culture are affected by your experiences or learned expectations of that culture. For example, the view of American spending habits may be viewed differently by two different cultures. 

Greetings set the tone. Cultures vary in greeting etiquette. Imposing your own cultural greeting when visiting another culture will negatively affect negotiations. If you are unsure how to proceed, wait until the other party initiates the greeting. If you have a host, let your host guide the greeting or the start of the meeting.

In general, wait and observe the following:

  • who introduces whom
  • which gestures are appropriate
  • how and which gestures are expected of you - and when
  • if gender affects gestures (e.g., are women allowed to shake hands or speak first)
TIP: Be aware of different attitudes toward time especially for business or formal meetings. For example, arriving early is expected when meeting in China but is usually frowned upon when meeting in Europe.

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