Overcoming Cultural Differences and International Negotiations

Because of cultural differences, international negotiations require a little more finesse than most other negotiations.  Navigating these cultural differences with ease can affect the outcome of your negotiations, so anticipating some of the issues can be helpful.  Detailed below are some of the most commonly faced issues in international negotiations and how to deal with them when they arise.


Differences in Time Perception

Being on time for meetings is important in most cultures, but when it comes to how time is measured and spent, other cultures think differently than Americans. While we measure time in minutes and hours, treating our personal time like something we must make the most of, some other cultures are not in such a rush.

Middle Eastern cultures measure time by events and considering how long it takes to complete a task. Asian cultures see time as more flexible. In Japan, early meetings are held to get to know one another, and attempts to rush can be considered rude.


Regional Differences in Behavior

While it’s good to know general behavioral standards specific to a country, different regions of a country may have a specific set of social behaviors. In Muslim cultures, long handshakes are polite. In Italy, people often talk loudly and interrupt one another, while in the south of the country, it’s considered impolite to address a woman as “Miss.”


Customs and Etiquette during Meals

Parties will often share a meal during negotiations. Dining habits vary widely so it’s important to spend time researching customs and practicing behaviors that are important to demonstrating courtesy.

In Asia, it’s considered impolite to point with chopsticks, and leaving them straight up and down in your rice bowl is taboo. In some cultures only certain types of conversation are appropriate for mealtimes, and in others it’s impolite to talk at all.


Appropriate Dress

In most cases, a suit is the best choice to wear to negotiations. However, some people use their apparel to stand out to potential clients. Research customs so your choice of attire doesn’t end up offending the parties you hoped to impress.



Even people who speak English well often feel more comfortable negotiating in their native language. A skilled interpreter can help prevent misunderstandings and make everyone feel more comfortable. Check credentials and make sure you’re not just selecting someone who happens to be bilingual, but hiring a qualified interpreter who understands the complexities and nuances of both languages and cultures.

With careful research into international customs, you can prevent cultural misunderstandings. You also have the opportunity to bring your businesses to new parts of the globe and facilitate a new level of respect between international partners.

Scroll to Top