This article was originally published on Procurious, based on a roundtable organised by Conti Advanced Business Learning (www.cabl.ch), a Swiss training company that specializes in Negotiation & Influencing training. This is the second article out of three.

 

Don’t assume everyone in the same culture has the same norms. Getting beyond cultural stereotypes, and seeing the individual, is key to good cross-cultural negotiation preparation.

 

In our previous article, we kicked off our recap of, and insight into, the intricacies of cross-cultural negotiations. In the second part of the series, our negotiation experts discuss cultural dimensions literature, the importance of moving beyond stereotypes, and why time should always be on your mind.

 

Hofstede’s Dimensions

Giuseppe Conti, Founder of Conti Advanced Business Learning, asked the participants to reflect on the landmark research on cross-cultural negotiations of Geert Hofstede. Hofstede identified six key cultural dimensions which would vary from culture to culture, and all of which need to be considered as part of negotiation preparation. These are:

 

1)     Individualist vs. collectivistic

2)     Power distance (i.e. egalitarian or hierarchical)

3)     Masculinity or femininity (focus on task vs. relationship)

4)     Uncertainty avoidance (related to taking risk)

5)     Long term vs short term orientation

6)     Indulgence vs. severity (the attitude toward enjoying life and having fun).

 

Each culture will approach these dimensions differently, taking a spot on a sliding scale between the two extremes. Knowing where cultures sit can be a huge assistance when going into cross-cultural negotiations.

 

Understanding Cultural Differences

Three of the Roundtable participants discussed their experiences in negotiations when taking these dimensions into consideration. Bérénice Bessiere, Director, Procurement and Travel Division at World Intellectual Property Organization, discussed the different approaches to gender between European and Chinese companies.

 

When going to China to lead a negotiation, Bérénice, although she was the senior buyer, was assumed to be the junior to her younger, male colleague. During the negotiation, the supplier also treated the females in the organisation in a way that wouldn’t be acceptable in Europe. The supplier didn’t win the business in the end (although for reasons other than this), Bérénice admitted she had wondered how the relationship would have worked if they had.

 

Another example was offered by Xin-jian Carlier Fu, Strategic Sourcing Commodity Manager at Honeywell. Xin-jian, having grown up in Shanghai, only came across Americans for the first time in a business situation. Whereas organisations in China operated with a very traditional, reserved culture, the Americans projected a very over-confident image in negotiations, being very talkative. This was so different to how business was conducted in China that it actually worked as a negative in negotiations between the two groups.

 

Finally, Carina Kaldalian, External Supply Governance Specialist at Merck, shared her experience based on her own cultural differences. In her home country of Lebanon, being an hour late to a social event is entirely acceptable. When she arrived in Switzerland for her first social meeting 10 minutes late, she thought this was ok, but it was seen as unacceptable by the people she was meeting with.

 

This helped to make changes to her own behavior, and gave her a better understanding of the difference in views on punctuality in different culture.

 

Beyond Stereotypes

Giuseppe made the point that cultural averages don’t necessarily apply to all individuals. Individual culture is instead influenced by a number of factors including work experience, upbringing, family values, and education, amongst other things. When negotiating in a cross-cultural situation, it’s important to get past the stereotypes, and uncover the specific traits of the individuals you are dealing with.

 

The participants had a number of ways that this could be done. Thierry Blomet, Senior Vice President at Kemira, suggested an informal discussion over dinner the day before the negotiation, enabling you to avoid a situation where you enter the negotiation without having ever met the other person before.

 

A number of the other participants highlighted the importance of the relationship, and getting to know the other person better, especially when dealing with Asian counterparts. Building a picture of the person by asking local agents about the people working there, and creating an emotional connection, and building trust in the early stages. Trust is valued in many cultures, with contracts even being signed purely on the basis of the trust created.

 

Time was also a factors mentioned by the Roundtable. Laurence Pérot, Director of Global & Strategic Sourcing at Logitech, recommended planning for time, as it’s likely to be treated differently in different cultures. Planning for more time than you think you need will help to ensure that you have effective conversations and get what you need.

 

However, on the other side, the suppliers may be using the time to their advantage. Ali Atasoy, CMO Operations Manager (Intercontinental) at Merck, highlighted that the other party may be deliberately slowing the negotiation down, as efficiency may not be at the top of their agenda. He advised patience in this situation, helped by knowing that there were no major time limitations for your negotiations.

 

Finally, the concept of your reputation in the industry was also raised. Matthias Manegold, VP Global Procurement at Liberty Global, advised that procurement professionals need to be consistent in their negotiations, and make sure the other party feels good about the outcomes. The outcomes will drive what people say about you in the industry, and a negative comment could harm your reputation with the wider supply base.

 

In the final article in this series, we will look at what the Roundtable discussed about how individuals can adapt their behaviours based on information that is gathered, as well as their advice on how to negotiate with people of their own nationality.

 

Interested in Negotiation?

You may want to join one of Giuseppe’s forthcoming workshops:

 

 

Participants to the roundtable: Ali AtasoyBérénice BessièreThierry BlometXin-jian CarlierGiuseppe ContiStéphane GuelatJon HatfieldCarine KaldalianMatthias ManegoldNicolas PassaquinLaurence PérotJean-Noël Puissant.

 

There is more to come on this topic. Next week I will publish the last article on this topic. If you missed the first article, you can read it now: The Art of Cross-cultural Negotiation

 

What’s your personal experience in cross-cultural negotiations? What challenges did you face? Please leave a comment below.

 

Giuseppe Conti, “The Creator of Master Negotiators”, is a recognized expert in the field of Negotiation and a regular lecturer at top-ranked European Business Schools, including BMI, ESADE, HEC Lausanne, HEC Paris, IMD, INSEAD, Oxford, RSM, SDA Bocconi, and University of Geneva. Managers from over 90 different countries have attended his highly interactive and hands-on workshops. He is a seasoned negotiator combining academic content with a rich practitioner experience from his senior procurement and commercial leadership roles with blue chip multinationals (Procter & Gamble, Novartis, Firmenich, Merck). He runs custom negotiation workshops for leading corporations in Europe and Asia as well as open enrollment programs in English, French and Italian in Geneva (Switzerland), Zurich (Switzerland), and Milan (Italy). Please visit his website at www.cabl.ch for more information.