Cross-Cultural Negotiation Tips


Negotiating in cross-cultural situations is a complex task because it adds a full dimension to any negotiation. It also introduces language barriers, differences in body language and clothing, and alternative ways of expressing pleasure or displeasure with the elements of a negotiation including protocol, customs and way of life of each culture. As a result, many negotiators fear accidentally losing an important negotiation or doing something that causes embarrassment or makes their negotiating counterpart feel bad. A handful of fundamental negotiation skills can be used to overcome these fears, redefine negotiation in an international context, and better understand how to negotiate in cross-cultural situations.

It is crucial to understand the culture, protocol, lifestyle of your counterpart or potential business partner before interacting or negotiating

This is why we share some tips to keep in mind in the intercultural negotiation processes:

  • Do your homework: Do your research in advance on all the cultural aspects of the region where you want to do business or get business partners.
  • Be careful with the language: It does not matter if you speak the language of your counterpart, you must communicate in their native language. Remember that thinking and speaking in a language other than your native language will require a greater effort and you must avoid the risk of misinterpretation or not knowing the exact jargon and expressions for the sector or area in which you are negotiating. Speaking the language of a counterparty can seem like a huge advantage in a challenging negotiation, and sometimes it is. However, the language can also be misleading, driving a negotiator to believe that he has a strength that may not be as clear-cut as we might think. Accurate language is the key to creating lasting and reliable agreements, and attempts to speak the other party’s language can undermine that precision with misunderstandings. The best practice is to hire professional translation – interpreting services.
  • Adapt to the style: Adapting to different processes in an intercultural negotiation can be challenging, but the willingness to embrace your counterpart’s way of doing business can be essential to achieve a successful negotiation. This is especially true when a negotiator visits his counterpart in his home country. You must be prepared for negotiation and you must study the “culture” of your counterpart’s company. That culture has its own set of rituals, preferences, and priorities that may or may not be negotiated.
  • Negotiate important matters separately: Understanding the importance of respectfully negotiating with a counterpart should be paramount in any situation. When preparing to negotiate in cross-cultural situations, the same rules apply, but for that reason, you do not have to overwhelm the preparation. Negotiation comes down to reaching a mutually acceptable agreement on issues that matter to all parties, and that means getting to each issue in an organized way. Sometimes it also means separating them and negotiating each one differently. Remember that you are already under enough pressure when faced with a different way of negotiating and culture than yours, so you must separate the issues, focus on the truly important issues, and work your way through each issue separately.
  • The power of allowing yourself to listen: As in many aspects of life, knowing how to listen is a valuable skill and we do not always apply it. “Knowing how to listen is making a real effort to understand others” – it goes much further than simply hearing what her counterpart says. It is popularly said that this is why we have two ears and only one mouth.
  • Be strategic: Expert negotiators value the idea of “Break Bread Together / Going straight to the point,” this also happens in other countries around the world, but not always. In many cultures it is very important to break the ice when starting a meeting by having a casual conversation that allows the parties to get to know each other a little better, and generate empathy. Additionally, is valuable to “measure” / “feel” the style of communication of the counterparts before entering the negotiation itself.