You have a great track record when it comes to closing deals in your home market but you are now about to go global. Perhaps you have been asked to negotiate sales contracts with new clients in neighbouring countries or to build a global supply chain. Simple, you 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 the country in question. Or is it so simple? If you assume that what works well at home will win over your international negotiation partners you may be in for a surprise.
Expectations and perceptions of how you behave can vary enormously, as can the tactics and techniques of the ‘other side’. Learning how to adapt your behaviour and how to read the signals when negotiating across borders is vital. Here are some fundamentals for anyone embarking on international negotiations:
- Take your time
The westerner who rushes in and then flies out the next day and wonders why they didn’t win the deal may now seem like a cliché, but even if you think you are allowing more time than usual, allow even more. Building trust takes time, decision making processes can be more complex and cross-cultural negotiations just tend to be more complicated than those with ‘people like you’. Be patient and remember that trying to rush the deal might trigger negative reactions, especially in parts of Asia and the Middle East.
- Relationships matter
Invest time in building a personal relationship with your counterpart. If you focus purely on closing the deal and getting the contract signed, you may miss out on the opportunities that a deeper long-term relationship can offer. Accept any invitations to socialise and get to know your partners on a personal level.
- Build the right team
Consider carefully who you send or how you build your negotiation team. Put yourself in the shoes of your counterpart and think about who they would expect to do business with. If they place greater value on hierarchy, the expectation may be to meet the most senior or the oldest person rather than the most skilled member of the team. Or sending a larger team might show how much you value their business.
- Read between the lines
It’s not just what you say that matters but how you say it – or for that matter what you don’t say. Particularly important when negotiating across cultures is the way you disagree. If you are from an Anglo or North European country, for example, you are more 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.
- Express yourself
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. In some parts of the world, ‘wearing your heart on your sleeve’ and showing how you feel is a positive trait.
- Check your 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 aware how easy it can be to make assumptions or fall back on national stereotypes. 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.
- Preparation is everything
Finally, as 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 to see the negotiation from their perspective. Develop your own cultural intelligence to read the others’ signals and be ready to adapt your usual negotiation style to meet the expectations of your counterparts. Then you are likely to be more successful wherever in the world you are negotiating