In global negotiations do you understand culture?

Most of the important lessons about life have come from recognising how others from a different culture view things.
— Edgar H.Schein

We have already explored the theme from market trends: Are procurement undervaluing suppliers? In this blog, we will concentrate on the need to understand culture in global negotiations.

The secret of great global negotiators is not one thing, but many: communication, planning, risk taking and cultural differences. But, one key item or secret of success can be gleaned from Aristotle in his book Rhetoric. The secret is: balance your negotiation argument with logic and emotion.

A skilled global negotiator will always connect at an emotional and rational level in the negotiation and will always be on the lookout for the unexpected to occur.
— Stephen Kozicki

Aristotle's basic premise was, using both logic and emotion stopped people trying to manipulate others. They could manipulate people with logic by omitting important information or by using guilt or fear to get someone to do something that is not in their best interest. He saw the three elements, not two were very persuasive because you the negotiator had to prepare with logic (logos), emotion (pathos) and connection (ethos), to connect and persuade another person to reach an agreement. The preparation takes longer because you have to understand who you are going to negotiate with and what you are trying to achieve.

Cultural Differences in Negotiation

In a rapidly globalising world, cultural considerations must be at the forefront of negotiators' minds. Cultural differences, whether they arise from growing up in a different part of the country or the globe, cannot be underestimated.

Language hurdles are only a small part of the battle. People come with deeply embedded cultural experiences that influence the way that they communicate and negotiate. Culture influences where people hold negotiations - they may occur in the office or over dinner. Culture influences who is present at the negotiation - senior managers, junior managers or a mixture. It influences whether the companies send male or female representatives. In short, the influence of culture in negotiation is so pervasive that the skilled negotiator will devote a considerable amount of time considering the likely impact of culture on the negotiation dynamics.

Issues to consider when dealing with cultural differences:

  • Respecting the culture
  • Language barriers
  • Credibility
  • Interpreters

For more information on these issues read chapter 2 of The Creative Negotiator: Changing the Focus to Value. Cultural differences often cause barriers to connection, making a mutually satisfying outcome in a negotiation difficult.

Barriers to connection

There is no easy solution for forging mutual respect, cooperation, and connection. It is born from a desire to go beyond the stereotypes, suspend all judgement, accept the differences and connect with the 'other' at a level beyond strategy or planning. Understanding potential barriers one or both of the negotiating parties can further the connection.

There are several barriers to connection that are common occurrences in cross-cultural interaction and communication. These barriers are ignorance of cultural values, stereotyping, frustration, lack of trust, selfish communication, placing blame and lack of adaptability. Realising these barriers exist and working to eliminate them is an important step in reaching connection. To break down or remove these barriers means you must understand your and their motivation - another important skill in negotiation.


Preparing for cultural negotiations is not about changing them to your way of thinking because it is better, it is about understanding the best way forward in the negotiation. Understand your motivation and use your energy to close more deals. Keep in mind that during negotiations you cannot motivate the other side to a better deal.

What you can do is create an atmosphere conducive to a favourable agreement.

Once you separate the people behaviour component of the negotiation from the actual negotiation, you will find that problems tend to disappear. When you accept that the other side has the same needs and insecurities to satisfy that you have, you understand and rationalise their behaviour.

What are these needs and insecurities?

  • The need to achieve
  • The need for challenge and responsibility
  • The need to satisfy personal and company goals
  • The need to be rewarded

To plan for a successful outcome to your negotiation, you must first know what motivates you. By knowing what motivates you, you can keep your emotions under control in any negotiation. A problem that often occurs in a negotition is that logic can quickly disappear, letting emotions take over. What can you do if you feel your control slipping while the negotiation is in progress? Call for a time out, take a break, and look for ideas that will keep you focused.

If you have clearly identified what you are trying to achieve, success is possible. Whoever has the greatest motivation in any negotiation is already streets ahead!