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Three Techniques to Successful International Negotiations

Every month I run a global new hire orientation for a rapidly growing tech start-up where I ask the same question, “who feels that the world is moving at a comfortable pace?”

No one ever says yes. No one.

Today our world is moving very fast as technology allows us to connect further, father, and instantly with people all across the world.

Hardly a day goes by when I am not communicating with someone from a different country be it Slacking with India, Skyping with France, or Gchatting with Brazil.

While digital connection has shrunk our society, it has increased the criticality of knowing how to communicate and negotiation globally.

We are constantly negotiating. Whether it be for time – convincing a developer in India to focus on a product idea, a new position – persuading a boss in England for a promotion, support for a project – having a marketing team San Francisco work on new collateral, and all the small interactions in between.

For this reason, effective global communication and negotiation is vital to doing business.

Here are three ways to begin to negotiate like a global citizen.

1) Tune into your natural negotiation style.

We all have innate negotiation styles, much of which is developed naturally through our cultural environment. For example, how one pays – or haggles – for groceries varies dramatically from culture to culture but is learned at a young age.

Start paying attention to your innate negotiation traits.

As an American, I have direct communication and negotiation style. If I have a problem with a product, I want to talk to the individual responsible, address the situation at hand, agree on an immediate solution, confirm that remedy in writing, and move forward with the plan.

If this sounds normal or natural to you, you should know that this style does not work in every environment.

In the United Arab Emirates, in my experience, it would be improper to shed direct light onto the issue at hand without first having a relationship built on mutual trust and history. To negotiate or discuss issues would be done after multiple shared meals and meetings, and handled quite delicately. Saving and respecting the relationship is more important than addressing the problem.

My style for an immediate resolution will come off as forward, pushy, and narrow-minded. I might “win” the battle but lose the war.

As much of one’s negotiation style is tied into cultural norms – and some individualistic style – both parties innately feel that their style is more right. Knowing this is key.

2) Discover who you are negotiating with.

More than I’d like to admit I have a Skype call with a colleague halfway across the world to agree on a project that ends in us both being confused. Our inability to effectively negotiate stalls action.

Knowing your counterparts natural negotiation approach is imperative to success.

A simple Google search provides a wealth of culture intelligence on the oppositions negotiation habits and adds color to your counterpart. Country comparison maps are also a powerful resource as it picking up a book such as Kiss, Bow, or Shake Hands if you interact with many cultures.

I also look for a “cultural navigator” to provide local insight in the form of a trusted colleague or friend. Someone who will give me a peek behind the cultural curtain of dos and don’ts.

Researching and staying aware of my colleagues negotiation preferences saves me lost time and much heartburn later on.

3) Bend and flex your style.

The last step is the hardest, because it’s uncomfortable. Flexing your negotiation style without feeling phony is a tricky part of becoming a versed international professional.

I was once interviewing for a position in the Middle East and was asked the question “how much do you respect authority on a scale of 1-10? 10 being the most?”

Well, I had a decision to make. If I was in the USA, I’d likely say 2-3. In a low hierarchical structure, like the US, it’s perfectly acceptable to respectfully challenge authority. Peaceful protests, writing to your senator, or open disagreement with someone older are commonplace.

In the Middle East, however, authority is viewed differently. Respect is given by age, title, and familial ties. This structure has been in place for thousands of years and is a deeply rooted.

Even though as an American, I will happily, openly challenge authority, in the Middle East, this technique will get me no where. In fact, it is seen as inappropriate and untrustworthy.

This does not mean that no one challenges authority in the Middle East, but, how it is done is much more intricate, paced, and concealed compared to the USA.

So, do I tell my interviewer that I am a 2?

In the USA, I am a 2. But, in the Middle East, being a 2 is unwise. To do business I must flex my style to be a higher number. Because, the circumstances of doing business in this environment are different. Not better, or worse, but different.

In the end, our global boundaries have decreased, but what’s increased is our need for the global negotiation skills to navigate the new cross-international world we live in.

What an exciting opportunity for those of us using technology daily to jump from culture to culture to earn our global negotiation stripes.

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