If you are an entrepreneur, you negotiate everyday. You negotiate sourcing materials, goods and services to keep your business running. These negotiations can take place in a local context or globally, across cultures.
If, for example, you decide to source globally, your negotiation partners will likely be from different cultures and may even speak different languages, adding a layer of complexity to all of your communications and coordination efforts. Indeed, different cultural orientations influence when we negotiate, how we negotiate, and what we negotiate.
Thankfully, there are well-established frameworks for better understanding the cultural dimensions of a negotiation. One of my favorites was developed by Richard Gesteland and uses four categories: relationship-focused/deal-focused; formal/informal; rigid-time/fluid-time; expressive/reserved cultures.
Using these dimensions to plan for negotiations can help you benefit from the outcomes and feel comfortable with the process.
1. Negotiate from a relationship-focused or deal-focused stance.
In Japanese culture (a relationship-focused culture), your counterpart needs to get to know you, so he or she feels comfortable and can trust you. A handshake, a bow or a look in the eye can help confer a sense of trust and respect. In my years of working in Japan, the unwillingness of certain parties of different orientation to adapt to this negotiation style was the source of many lost deals.
This dimension has everything to do with timing and familiarity. For those negotiating from a relationship focus, you want to spend time getting to know your counterpart to decide whether he or she deserves your trust. On the other hand, a deal-focused orientation is all about getting in, closing the deal, and getting out.
2. Follow formal or informal procedures.
This refers to the level of protocol you need to follow in order to engage in a negotiation. Formal negotiation protocol has a particular process. In cultures that are considered "tight" as per Michelle Gelfand, there are strict guidelines about what you can/cannot say publicly, the order of who can speak and when, and which issues are even negotiable. There's little flexibility. If you are from a "loose" culture with more relaxed procedures, you need to recognize that guidelines you ignore because you feel they are not important, can send the message that you do not respect the negotiation process, and therefore, do not respect the other party.
Becoming acquainted with how the other party wants to negotiate is important. One way is to identify a "cultural informant" who can explain the procedures you are expected to follow in the negotiation. It is a way of gaining insights of basic dos and don'ts when negotiating. For example, before going to Ghana, I learned that expecting people to speak one at a time can be too rigid and can dampen their enthusiasm for the deal. In general, their preference is to show a high level of passion during a negotiation and that shows support.
3. Adhere to a rigid or fluid sense of time.
Deadlines are non-negotiable for some cultures and mere suggestions for others. This can make or break deals if there is a clash over timing, especially when you have a tightly linked progression of activity flow and one part is delayed.
It is always good to have a back-up plan in case there is a delay. I know some colleagues who have more than one source of who can supply a product or service for what they need so they are assured they will be able to get what they need when they need it. Negotiating these contingencies in advance minimizes the risk from depending on one source.
4. Express yourself in communication or stay reserved.
With expressive cultures you may misjudge the level of commitment because of how emphatic they may be. Or you may underestimate the importance of a particular item in a negotiation because the other party downplays the response.
In the concept of mirroring you build rapport with others by copying their gestures or tone. You may not need to be as reserved or emphatic as your counterpart, but edging closer than you normally would could be a way to build rapport. One of my colleagues responds better when I outwardly show more enthusiasm than usual in my demeanor. It increases trust and can lead to better quality outcomes.
Think of these four dimensions on a continuum and assess where you're most comfortable. Determine where you think your counterpart will fall on the spectrum, and decide how much you want to flex in their direction. You want to strike a balance with remaining comfortable and showing good faith as you continue to develop your relationship through negotiations.