Six Keys for Successful International Negotiations

29 July 2016 0 Comments

You have a very successful track record when it comes to demonstrating your negotiation skills at home but you are now about to go global. Perhaps you have been asked to negotiate sales contracts with new clients in neighbouring countries or to build a global supply chain. Simple - you make sure you have a colleague with you who speaks the local language, or you hire an interpreter, and you read up about the business etiquette in the country in question. Or is it so simple? If you assume that what works well at home will win over your international negotiation partners you may be in for a surprise. Expectations and perceptions of how you behave can vary enormously,
as can the tactics and techniques of the 'other side'. Learning how to adapt your behaviour when negotiating across borders is vital and here are some important considerations for anyone embarking on international negotiations:

The westerner who rushes in and then flies out the next day and wonders why they didn't win the deal may now seem like a cliché, but even if you think you are allowing more time than usual you probably still need to add more. Building trust takes time, decision making processes can be more complex and cross-cultural negotiations just tend to be more complicated than those on your home turf. Exercise your patience and remember that trying to rush the deal might trigger negative reactions, especially in parts of Asia and the Middle East.

You may also need to invest time in building a personal relationship with your counterpart. For some cultures, if you focus purely on the deal and getting the contract signed, you may miss out on the opportunities that a deeper long-term relationship can offer. Spend time socialising with your new partners and get to know them on a personal level.

You may think you have the best negotiation skills combined with expert knowledge of the products in question to make the trip but before you book your flight make sure you consider your counterpart's expectations of who they are meeting. In countries where greater value is placed on hierarchy, the expectation may be to meet the most senior person rather than the most skilled member of the team or it may be to meet the whole team.

Just as important as speaking your counterpart's language, if not more so, is the way you say what you say and particularly the way you disagree. If you are from the US or Germany, for example, you are likely to have a fairly direct communication style and a preference for 'telling it like it is'. If you are negotiating with partners from more indirect cultures you need to be aware that you may come across as pushy or aggressive, if you don't soften your usual style.

In some parts of the world, 'wearing your heart on your sleeve' is a positive trait whereas in other countries emotional expressiveness is seen as unprofessional. Tune in to your counterpart's emotions and remember that outward displays can sometimes be a positive signal. Don't assume that all is lost if voices are raised or faces become redder.

Always remember that each time you negotiate, wherever you are in the world, that your counterpart is an individual. Cultural knowledge is a positive thing and the more research you can do the better, but be careful about stereotyping and making the assumption that they will behave in a certain way because you have read about their culture. Be aware of how you come across but don't try too hard to adapt your behaviour to what you think it should be as you may get it wrong.

With any negotiation in any culture or any context, spending time on preparation is crucial and part of that preparation should be putting yourself in the shoes of your counterparts to see the negotiation from their perspective. If you develop the cultural intelligence to read the others' signals and to know when how to adapt your usual negotiation style you are likely to be more successful wherever in the world you are negotiating.

The London School of International Communication runs a range of highly practical and well-regarded intercultural short skills courses including on Saturdays for the busy professional.