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Six pitfalls to avoid in international negotiations
You have a very successful track record when it comes to demonstrating your negotiation skills at home in your own market but you now have a role that involves negotiating across borders and cultures. Simple, you may think - you make sure you have a colleague with you who speaks the local language, or you hire an interpreter, and you read up about the business etiquette in your counterpart’s country.
Or is it so simple? Whether you are negotiating sales contracts with new clients in neighbouring countries or building a supply chain across continents you may become stuck if you assume that what works well at home will seal the deal when it comes to international negotiations. Are the skills and techniques we need for international negotiations the same as those we draw on when negotiating at home? Here are some potential pitfalls to avoid if you are embarking on international negotiations
1. The time is now
The western businessman who rushes in and then flies out the next day and then wonders why he didn’t win the deal may now seem like a cliché but even if you think you are allowing more time than usual your probably still need to add more. Building trust takes time, decision making processes can be more complex and cross-cultural negotiations just tend to be more complicated than those on your home turf. Exercise your patience and remember that trying to rush the deal might trigger negative reactions, especially in parts of Asia and the Middle East.
2.Transaction or relationship
You may also need to invest time in building a personal relationship with your counterpart. For some cultures, if you focus purely on the transaction and getting the contract signed, you may cause offence but you may also miss out on the opportunities that a deeper long-term relationship can offer. Spend time socialising with your new partners and get to know them on a personal level.
3. The right person for the job?
You may think you have the best negotiation skills combined with expert knowledge of the products in question to make the trip but before you book your flight make sure you consider your counterpart’s expectations of who they are meeting. In countries where greater value is placed on hierarchy the expectation may be to meet the most senior person rather than the most skilled member of the team or it may be to meet the whole team.
4. Direct or indirect communication
Just as important as speaking your counterpart’s language, if not more so, is the way you say what you say and particularly the way you disagree. If you are from the US or Germany, for example, you are likely to have a fairly direct communication style and a preference for ‘telling it like it is’. If you are negotiating with partners from more indirect cultures you need to be aware that you may come across as pushy or aggressive if you don’t soften your usual style
5. Too much emotion – or too little
In some parts of the world, ‘wearing your heart on your sleeve’ is a positive trait whereas in other countries emotional expressiveness is seen as unprofessional. Tune in to your counterpart’s emotions and remember that outward displays can sometimes be a positive signal. Don’t assume that all is lost if voices are raised or faces become redder.
6. Stereotyping and cultural assumptions
Always remember that each time you negotiate, wherever you are in the world, that your counterpart is an individual. Cultural knowledge is a positive thing and the more research you can do the better, but be careful about stereotyping and making the assumption that they will behave in a certain way because you have read about their culture. Be aware of how you come across but don’t try too hard to adapt your behaviour to what you think it should be as you may get it wrong.
With any negotiation in any culture or any context spending time on preparation is crucial and part of that preparation should be putting yourself in the shoes of your counterparts. If you develop the cultural intelligence to read the others’ signals and to know when and how to adapt your usual negotiation style you are likely to be more successful wherever in the world you are negotiating.