People say that 80% of communication is non-verbal. A smile, a handshake or just nodding your head in agreement are small but very meaningful examples of attempting to connect with other people. But what happens when you have to interact with individuals from different cultures? Our personal way of communicating might make someone from a different part of the world feel uncomfortable and apprehensive.
In today’s global economy, many industries need to rely on business relationships with companies and employees from various countries for their growth and expansion. Hence, many business people need to understand cultural competence and how to successfully execute cross-cultural negotiations.
To help us communicate in various cultural settings, Erin Meyer has provided research on cross-cultural negotiation techniques in her article titled, Getting to Si, Ja, Oui, Hai, and Da. Below are some of her standout points on the matter.
In some cultures, you can openly disagree with a person. Saying things such as, “No” or “I disagree”, are not offensive but cues for a healthy debate. Countries like Denmark, Russia, Germany, French, Israel and the Netherlands don’t mind openly disagreeing, as long as it is explained in an objective manner.
Conversely, in nations like Brazil, Peru, Mexico, Japan, Thailand, Ghana and Saudi Arabia, directly disagreeing with someone is perceived as rude. They tend to use kinder words such as, “I’m not sure” or “perhaps”. The right way to disagree with individuals from these countries involves probing deeper into the matter. Asking why or letting the other person know that you don’t understand the point of contention is the right way to address conflict. Also, people from countries that like to disagree politely but are openly disagreeing are showing signs of a serious problem, so start fixing the situation.
In certain cultures, giving a big hug, talking loudly, using your hands, and being expressive is normal. However, in other cultures, people tend to be more reserved. It’s important to pick up on these behaviors and adjust your communication style to make someone one from a different culture feel comfortable.
It’s hard to trust anyone these days, but when we have to develop trust with individuals from a different culture and in a business setting the odds seem stacked against you. Based on Meyer’s research, the significant factor in establishing trust is knowing when to be more personal or practical and businesslike.
Certain cultures build trust through a lot of personal interaction and communication. Individuals from Southeast Asia, Africa, Mediterranean countries, the Middle East and Mexico need to feel like a person is genuinely interested in them. Meyer suggests having meals or doing fun activities with people from these countries. Also, speaking more sincerely and honestly in a personal context will go much further with people from these countries. Even small gifts are a kind gesture that adds a personal touch. Negotiators need to look at the process of negotiation as making friends with people from these countries first, and then discussing business. This process may be lengthy, but important.
In contrast, countries like America, Germany, Australia and the United Kingdom prefer to skip all the formalities and get down to business. Information, details, dependability, consistency and quality are what matters to people from these countries when doing business.
Individuals from emerging markets may agree to the terms of a contract but then start changing their mind about the terms soon after. This shift is frustrating for businesses from countries that take contracts very seriously. So, when doing business globally, it’s important to be flexible and accommodating to new business associates. Try to understand why they can’t agree to something instead of thinking they don’t want to hold up to their end of the bargain.
The amazing thing about doing business in another country is learning how another group of people think, speak and do business. No way is bad, just different. We just need to get out of our comfort zone sometimes and learn to see things in a broader context.
What are some cultural differences you’ve noticed when doing business with a business in a foreign country?
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