Success in International Negotiations

We caught up with our Master Facilitator, Jeff Cochran, who recently returned from teaching negotiation training in (or designing programs for) Japan, Germany, Australia, Thailand, and Mexico. Our conversation made us revisit the theme of having success in international negotiations.

International negotiations can be daunting. There are differences across cultures to what constitute appropriate gestures, common greetings, and varying gender roles. These are important factors to consider when meeting a client for the first time, being introduced to new partners or engaging in negotiations. But, while varied formalities and language barriers can alter the content of negotiations and the path that it takes, at its core the process of preparing for negotiations does not vary from country to country, company to company, or person to person. The steps remain consistent, and following the 3 P’s –preparing, probing, and proposing—ultimately proves to be the most efficient and effective approach of getting what you want, while helping the other side get what they want.


Preparing for International Negotiations: In what culture is it wrong to prepare?

As SNI’s systematic approach demonstrates, preparation is always the first step to a successful negotiation. And when preparing for international negotiations, preparation may be even more important. Spending the time to find out how cultural norms differ and how to adapt to differences in dress, speech, and mannerisms will be the tip of the proverbial preparation iceberg.

So, the question is, how do we prepare for international negotiations? Is it different from traditional preparation? In many regards, preparation will be the same for international meetings; the negotiator should understand the other side’s position, its precedents, and its objectives. In the end, though, it boils down to being mindful of the changing environment in other countries and being adaptable by engaging in constant research (whether it be overt or merely observational) and preparation to make sure that every interaction is respectful and meaningful.


Probing in International Negotiations: Mehrabian’s Rule

Probing is similarly important and will often circle back to the necessity of more preparation to be able to probe better –and in a culturally and socially acceptable way. In interactions with new clients it is important to be aware of the other party’s perceptions of your mannerisms, tone, and appearance. This may be even more important in international settings where language may be a barrier; no matter what language one speaks, though, a raised voice has meaning and a smile will have an impact.

Albert Mehrabian, professor at UCLA, suggested a 7%-38%- 55% Rule, which says that 7% of communication is the actual spoken message –the words that are used; 38% of understanding is based on the tone of voice; and the remaining 55% of communication is based on a party’s understand of body language. This goes back to preparing; when probing, be aware of and prepared to deal with different ways and styles of answering, in addition to certain probing mechanisms that may or may not be appropriate in certain cultural or social situations. Prepare for these scenarios by learning customs and practices that will make sure communication start on, and stay on, the right foot. This can be done through formal research, but should be adapted by observing what others are doing and what affect their behavior has on immediate reactions and long-term relationships.

The systematic approach tells us to ask questions. Ask: “What’s important to you?” And then ask, “What else?” The way you ask these questions may not be the same across all international negotiations, but that is why we prepare.


Proposing in International Negotiations: Finding the Solution

In any negotiation, proposing a deal can have a successful or unsuccessful result. In some cases, an agreement can be reached, in others a middle ground simply cannot be found. Preparing and probing in an appropriate and meaningful way minimizes a negative or surprising reaction to a proposal from the other side. In the end, in international as well as domestic negotiations, it is important to be strategic when making proposals in order to not only maximize your solution but also maintain the constructive relationship you have established throughout the negotiation process.


Remember: Even the things that vary from culture to culture are minuscule in comparison to the things that tie us together. The expression of emotions manifests differently across cultures, but the feeling itself is the same, and it is those feelings – those innate human connections – that are the things that uncomplicate international negotiations. From a distance, impressions of other cultures may stray us away from utilizing a systematic approach to negotiations. For example, we may view the culture in Germany as serious and stern by nature. But, when the distance is reduced, and we can see that passion and excitement is simply shown differently. Jeff Cochran, SNI’s Master Facilitator, recalls a vivid display of passion and appreciation after his recent presentation in Germany. As he finished, the participants began banging on the tables – an outpouring of excitement and gratitude – from a group of people that might have been mislabeled previously.

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