Click Here To Listen To The NEGOTIATEx Podcast

What You'll Learn In Today's Episode

  • Culture is the learned, shared, and perceptual behaviors of a group that have been transmitted from generation to generation. This can include their language, symbols, values, beliefs, and more. It impacts interactions, hearing (in terms of understanding), cooperative strategies, and more.
  • There are levels of culture: the pan is Asia, Europe, North America, and so on. Next is the national, like the US, China. After that comes the regional; the Northeast and the South. At the organizational level comes the military and IBM. Last of all, we have the individual.
  • Avoid stereotyping people. Instead, allow them individuality. Assuming you know how all locals think is prejudice masquerading as cultural sensitivity. Subconscious condescension will betray you. It closes doors, too.
  • Beware of trendy books Aram calls “high investment and low impact:” It’s good to know whom you shouldn’t show the soles of your feet to. At the same time, some best sellers are too superficial to provide an understanding of the culture involved.

Watch This Episode On NEGOTIATEx TV

Executive Summary:

Welcome to the NEGOTIATEx podcast! Aram and Nolan are focused on cross-cultural negotiations today. For example, a group from the US could meet with one from Asia. At the same time, a marriage between two families from the same neighborhood can involve different societies, too.

Even transferring from one department to another within a company can be cross-cultural. Regardless of your circumstances, the NEGOTIATEx team has steps to help you excel.

Why Cross-cultural Negotiations Are Different

Culture often determines what someone hears. This happens regardless of what you meant to say. Similarly, it impacts how we work together to solve problems.

For example, Country A may have a long history with Country B. This may determine how much a resident of Country A cooperates with persons from Country B. Meanwhile, historical-cultural stereotypes may bias Country B residents against working with people from Country A.

Culture is a group’s learned, shared, and perceptual behaviors. Often, these have been transmitted from generation to generation. They can include language, symbols, values, and more.

At the same time, avoid pigeonholing people from a different culture. Aram has heard the phrase “I know how Americans all think” too many times. This is prejudice masquerading as cultural sensitivity.

Not-so-different Dimensions

Social psychologist Geert Hoffstede proposed 6 dimensions of culture in the 20th century. Learn them as soon as you can. They’re still helpful for cross-cultural negotiations today.

The first is individualism vs. collectivism: Does a society value the strength and priority of the individual? Or is the power of the group preferred?

Next is power distance. This assesses whether the culture is more hierarchical or egalitarian. Meanwhile, the third is uncertainty avoidance: Does a culture prefer structure and orthodoxy? Or, do they take each day as it comes?

The fourth is masculinity or femininity: This considers whether a society expects you to be achieving and assertive or more relationally focused.

Subsequently, the fifth is long-term vs short-term: Is it more important within a culture to prepare for the future or to preserve its traditions and customs?

The last is indulgence vs restraint: Does the society encourage the enjoyment of human desires? Or, does it encourage degrees of restraint?

Research for Cross-cultural Negotiations

Do your homework and read up. However, avoid the kind of books that Aram calls “high investment and low impact:” These convey a culture’s specific do’s and don’t-s, but offer no further understanding. They are inherently superficial.

Consider the GlobeSmart team assessment, stay observant, and keep a curious mind. Edgar Schein’s analysis of cultural organization may be worth studying before cross-cultural negotiations, as well.

Additionally, Professor Jeanne Brett’s work demonstrates that a negotiator’s culture colors their strategies. The better you understand this, the better your chances of finding inroads during cross-cultural negotiations.

Before that, study their history and their literature. Get up-to-date on their current events, while you’re at it. You may or may not have time to learn the language. Nevertheless, at least try to pick up a greeting, “Thank you,” and “What is this?”

Nolan advises keeping polite, courteous, and deferring as you enter negotiations. Don’t immediately seek to lead. You’re more likely to pick up on the cultural norms. It’s less rigid of a process than reading a do’s and don’t-s book, too.

When in doubt, reach out to NEGOTIATEx before tackling cross-cultural negotiations. We’re experienced, knowledgeable, and eager to help.

Key Takeaways

  • Stay curious. Be willing to discuss cultural differences explicitly. You don’t have to agree with everything you hear to remain respectful, polite, and friendly.
  • Slow things down. Don’t try to hurry when you’re working cross-culturally. Misunderstandings will happen in cross-cultural negotiations. Allow time to resolve them.
  • Get on LinkedIn and find someone from the culture you’ll interact with. Invite them to coffee. Next, ask them questions that will help you negotiate better in their region.
  • Give us a 5-star rating at Apple, Spotify, or where ever you listen from (please). Your feedback helps us to grow. If you’re receiving value, share the NEGOTIATEx podcast with a friend, too.
  • Make use of our 7 elements prep tool at NEGOTIATEx.com. It’s there to help.
  • Send questions for Nolan and Aram to team@negotiatex.com. Yours could be featured in a future episode.

Nolan and Aram have lots more insights in today’s NEGOTIATEx podcast. Questions to team@negotiatex.com are always welcome. Don’t forget to drop by negotiatex.com and leave feedback, either.

Your time’s important to us. Thanks for listening!


Nolan Martin : Welcome to another Negotiat X podcast. I am your co-host Nolan Martin. And with me is my good friend as always Aram Donigian, Aram, how are you doing today, sir?

Aram Donigian : I'm great. It's a beautiful day, I know we always talk about the weather, but the kids are outside playing. It's quiet inside the house. So it's a good day! How are you?

NM : I'm good. Are you homeschooling or anything like that?

AD : We do? Yeah, we homeschool.

NM : Oh man. All right. Well, I'll make sure to kind of keep this quick so that y'all can get back to it then. All right. Well, today I am excited, and again, I know I say that all the time, but we're talking about cross-cultural negotiations and I know that we both kind of have a lot of experience with this and we both are very passionate about this subject because I mean, as we go in, especially as we try to get a lot of things done during a deployment, we can see how powerful it is to, to come at it from this angle.

AD : Yeah. I mean, and thinking about operating overseas is one way to think about cross-cultural negotiations and the truth is, is that any time one organization goes in to start working with another organization, they're going to deal with some cultural issues. And all of a sudden they find themselves in a cross-cultural negotiation. As an army officer, I worked for four years at the air force academy. I mean, that was a cross-cultural experience. Heck even with in-laws and families, uh, you can certainly have cross-cultural experiences.

NM : Oh man! I hope your families don’t listen to this, cause you're going to be in trouble!

AD : Brother, brother, you don't write the check unless you can cash it, alright?

Key Concepts Before Getting Into Multi-Cultural Negotiations [02:40]

NM : Hahahaha! Alright. Alright. Well, we got jokes and, I don't want to be you if they ever do listen to it, but seriously, all right. Get down to it. Why culture is important to negotiation? I'm sure a lot of people ask this all the time, but if I were answering that question, I'd probably go straight to sharing how much culture affects personal interactions, how people see each other, their interactions with each other, how they communicate, what they hear and how they work together to solve problems. That's all going to be different when you're talking kind of coming at it from different angles.

AD : Yeah, that’s true. I mean, there's some real costs to doing business when we don't recognize and address the challenges of cross-cultural dynamics. And unfortunately there's this tendency to distrust or stereotype someone just because what they do in their particular culture is different than what we might do in ours. So, the history between organizations, companies, uh, families, family members, you know, countries, all these cultural differences and the history and long memory behind them can actually lead to some pretty strong prejudices. And all of these prejudices tend to lead to breakdowns in communication and efforts to collaborate.

NM : Yeah, so do you have any, uh, examples for our listeners here?

AD : Yeah. Let me, let me give you a quick example. So, I had a colleague who was in Iraq from 2005 - 2006, working with the Iraqi police force, getting them to become more professionalized and take increased security actions. And things were really breaking down to the point where there’s accusations being made around disloyalty and incompetence and very little progress, very little success. And when they were able to finally like analyze the source of the tension, it really came back to what we were asking of our Iraqi counterparts was to put the nation ahead of their loyalty to God, personal honor and trust because that was what we would do. It wasn't until they understood that cultural difference and started to address it, that the discussions improved and they were finally able to start taking action. I've seen the same thing with corporate clients working in other countries where you have 30 to 50 years of historical experiences working together. And until they start talking about their cultural differences, they can really have a hard time working together.

NM : Yeah. So I'd like to kind of unpack this a little bit. So how do you define culture?

AD : Yeah. Culture is the learned, shared and perceptual behaviors of a group, which have been transmitted from generation to generation. This can include language, symbols, values, and beliefs, patterns of thinking and customary behaviors. Culture affects identity. So for example, do I see myself primarily as an individual or as a member of a larger community? Culture affects our value systems. What do I prioritize in my own life? And then based on that prioritization, how do I interpret information? That's affected as well, and finally, I mean, culture , but culture also affects communication. Am I outspoken towards peers and leaders? Or am I more deferential? And do I prioritize respect? Those are all things to consider.

NM : Yeah. So I think another important consideration here is that there's different levels to culture and we need to kind of break that down, right? So for starting big, we need to about the pan regional. So we're talking about Asia, Europe, maybe North America, and then we're going to get a little bit more specific. We can go the national. So now we're talking about the United States, talking about China, we're talking about Russia, and then we're going to go to regional level. So now we're talking about the Northeast, the Pacific Northwest, the South, these are all different than we can even go smaller. And now we're going to go to the organizational level. We have the military, we have, you know, Exxon, we have AT&T, we have different companies and then we have the individual and all of these are different cultural levels and they all should be approached differently.

AD : Yeah, I think that's really important to consider because most people are a combination of more than one culture. So for example, you know, a second generation American citizen from Texas working for a global firm is very likely to have a different cultural and stylistic nuances than an American citizen from New York city who continues to run a, you know, a family owned business, has been in the family for over a hundred years and they're living in their hometown.

NM : Yeah, and I think… so as we kind of speak about this, you know, I am big into fostering dogs, rescuing dogs whatever you want to say. And what I've noticed is like most of these breeds have like 20 different breeds, right? And if you just say, oh, that's a lab you may miss out on this other breed that you can see the different qualities that are in it. So, boxing them in to a one specific breed. And here we're saying, oh, one specific culture. I think you're really going to miss out and how to really identify some of those other important factors in the negotiation that you can bring to the table. Does that make sense?

AD : Yeah, it does. It does make sense. Right, we need to take a holistic view of, of people. So we need to get away from the perspective, which is you I've negotiated with one American. I know how all Americans think, and even though that sounds really funny, I've heard that exact sentiment stated numerous times in Afghanistan, and that singular focused approach is what I would refer to as prejudice, masquerading as cultural sensitivity. It just misses the entire point and it can actually cause a lot more damage than good.

NM : Yeah. And so now kind of get into the academia side of this. I know, kind of the important person to talk about when we start talking about this is the Dutch professor and social psychologist, Gert Hofstede's research. Do you like how I pronounce it?

AD : I am. I'm very impressed that you remembered that after all these years.

NM : Definitely top of mine. Um, but seriously though, I know that he’d come up with the six dimensions of culture. I don't remember exactly what it was, but I do remember that it was a valuable framework. And I know that it’s related to culture, you mind kind of, kind of going over that part for us?

Hofstede's Dimensions Of Culture [08:52]

AD : Yeah. I won't go too deep here, but, but I think that Hofstede's dimensions of culture are really helpful to review. They can really inform us and help us then make decisions in terms of how to be more effective at the negotiating table. So the first one is individualism versus collectivism. Does a society value the strength and priority of the individual or the power of the group? The second one is power distance. Is the culture more hierarchical or equalitarian? Third, uncertainty avoidance, does the society prefer structure orthodoxy and more rigid behaviors, or does it take each day as it comes with a more relaxed and unpredictable future? Is it more masculine or feminine and what it means by that? What we mean by that is what is valued more achievement, assertiveness, and competition, or relationship, service and care for others long-term versus short-term orientation. So is the preference for preparing for the future? There are things like education, or is it on focusing on the past via traditions and customary norms? And finally, the last dimension is indulgence versus restraint. Does the society encourage the enjoyment of natural human desires or does it encourage greater restraint or regulation of those things?

NM : Yeah, so kind of for the sake of time, obviously we can't really dig deeper into each of those topics, but how are we going to take that information, and how are we going to turn it into actionable advice for our listeners?

The Extent Of Academic Knowledge [10:07]

AD : Well, so first of all, I mean, there's a lot of books on culture that people can go pick up and, certainly you can pick up on, you know, the 10 tips for negotiating and whatever, culture, whatever country you're going to. And I think that's perfectly fine, and I find that those specific pieces tend to be what I call high investment and low impact.

NM : What do you mean by that?

AD : Well, I think it's possible to understand a lot about a culture without ever understanding the culture itself. It can be, you know, what ends up happening is a very superficial, surface level understanding of do's and don'ts; you never shake with your left hand, you don't show the bottoms of your feet. You always drink three cups of tea before doing any business and, you know, and so on. Um, I mean, I I've seen that in the military far too often.

NM : The Cups of Tea, comes to mind, we were told everybody needs to read this book before you deployed to Afghanistan. Okay, that aside, how about the use of cultural assessments to kind of get better understanding of your own cultural preferences or are those helpful?

AD : Yeah, I think they're a good starting point. I think they gave you a data point to just consider, you know, what are some of my tendencies, what are some of my own preferences? How might it impact or create challenges for me operating in another culture, that's different? I've worked a little bit in recent years with appearing in Global's globe smart assessment. I think it's a great tool for helping inform along those lines.

NM : Yeah. And just for our listeners, we're listing off a bunch of resources here. We'll have a link to all of these in the show notes. So if you go to negotiate x.com/ten, you'll be able to see the different links that Aaron and I are mentioning here in the podcast today. Alright, so, apart from those assessments or readings, what else do you advise?

Attitudinal Considerations [12:06]

AD : The big thing is observation and a curious mind. I remember being in Afghanistan right around Christmas, 2011. I was meeting with some Afghan officers who I'd built a relationship with. And we were working on a number of things together, and they actually led a conversation asking how did I feel about being away from home at Christmas? They knew that that's a big Western holiday. They wanted to know about some of the traditions. They said, ‘do you really bring a tree to your house?’ And so it opened up this door to talk about traditions and customs and why those things exist. And then I was able to run in and ask them about their own, and we're laughing and joking about where some of this stuff comes from. It just, you know… it certainly improved the relationship and helped us get to know each other better. It was a real powerful event.

NM : Yeah. And just kind of sidebar here's what I've noticed is if you are polite, courteous, and just not necessarily take the lead, but are willing to follow, you'll kind of pick up on the cultural norms when you go into negotiation. So, it's not as rigid as reading a book and do this, or don't do this.

AD : Absolutely.

NM : I mean, there is some give and take there, and as long as you put your best foot forward, I think that it's kind of easier to understand where you're coming from.

AD : Yeah, sure that’s true. I may not have made the point, well enough when we're talking about reading books, I get it.

NM : I think you did though. I think what happened is what the industry - by and large - is saying is that it kind of makes people, scared to go into a cross-cultural negotiation because they think that it's, you know, when you go into your first one that it's a lot worse than it's going to be. And it's not necessarily always going to be like that. So that's what I just kind of wanted to let people know, is it's not going to be that bad.

AD : It gets to what I was saying about being curious as well. You know, what are you supposed to be curious about? So I know we're, again, we are listing off a lot of resources, Edgar Schein, is the big person on kind of organizational culture. And, one of the things that Schein talks about is the, the presence of artifacts, things that can be seen, touched, heard that are really representative of the espoused values and beliefs. The things that have importance of the people, of the ideas, of the things in this particular culture, and then beneath those espoused values are the underlying assumptions, which are much harder to see deeply embedded. So, if you truly want to understand the culture of a people, a country, an organization, you have to investigate and uncover the artifacts, the values, and the assumptions there.

NM : Another thing that we kind of pride ourselves on is the ability to do investigative research whenever we're preparing for negotiations. And that's no different here as we talk about cross-cultural negotiations and how our listeners should prepare for a cross-cultural negotiation. So, looking into the literature, reading the recent current events, but more importantly, go out into the cities like these people are everywhere. You could probably, again, use LinkedIn as a resource, find someone that may be from that country and ask them to buy a coffee and ask them questions. That's going to help you become a better negotiator in that culture.

AD : Yeah. All those things are good. I mean, I think understanding people's history, you mentioned literature, right? That's literature is such a great insight on how people view themselves. Making sure you read up on current events, it's got to be more than the top 10 tips.

NM : Hahaha!

AD : And you talked about talking to people… When I was in Afghanistan, you know, meeting people at the market, talking to cab drivers, you know, and then learning certainly from cultural experts, interpreters, those are ways that I, I got more acquainted with the culture.

How Important Is Learning The Language [15:55]

NM : Oh this one's my favorite! So how important is learning the language?

AD : I mean, obviously it's certainly valuable. Language is a window to the soul of a culture, and the truth is it may not be feasible. Just depends on how much time and resources you have, before you enter into this new culture. I think at a minimum, learning a few things such as a greeting or the ability to show appreciation, to say thank you is helpful. To me, the most impactful phrase that you can learn in any culture is just, ‘what is this’ that expression? ‘What is this?’ It demonstrates a real interest and an openness to learning which people will appreciate.

NM : Yeah, I think, ‘hello’, ‘thank you’ and ‘goodbye’. I mean, that's how I was able to really - I think - win a lot of influences some of the elders that I had to encounter in Afghanistan, by just knowing those three phrases and then allowing the rest of the conversation to kind of go through my negotiators.

AD : Yeah, let me tell you a quick story too. So language can get you in trouble too, if you don't take the time to be aware of it. Right, so I was presenting back in, 2012. I was presenting in the city of Herat in Afghanistan. I was presenting, making a presentation and I, in the very opening of my presentation, I was talking about this great opportunity that laid before us. And this was a presentation to about 30 different government employees, government officials, and civil society leaders from the city of Herat. And we're just talking about opportunity, my interpreter, who was a very close friend of mine, was translating and spent 10 minutes, like 10 minutes goes by. And, all I had said was like, what a great opportunity we have here today to discuss these things. And so I paused and said, ‘Hey, what happened?’

AD : And he said, ‘well, there's no direct translation for the word opportunity.’ Which is really insightful when you think about it, that in Dari, there was no exact translation we had to, we had to explain what an opportunity would be. Awareness around that, you know, whether it was word choice or saying this really is important to spend 10 minutes on, this concept? Would have been really valuable. And that's interesting for me as an American who, we're the… it's the ‘land of opportunity’, you know, ‘opportunity knocks’. I mean, it's woven into our cultural fabric. So, language is a fascinating thing to discover.

What Happens If You Get It Wrong? [18:24]

NM : Yeah. So what happens if you ever do get it wrong?

AD : Well, you know, I remember my Afghan friends that I would talk to said, ‘Aram, we will forgive you any faux pas, that you might make culturally, in the same way we hope you would do the same for us. If we can look in your eyes and know that your intent is good.’

NM : Yeah, I think that's important to be able to kind of show some grace. And I know that we do the same if we know that someone is, that English is their second or maybe even their third language.

AD : So yeah, I mean, you're going to get things wrong, working culturally. So, you know, being humble, being open to learning is really important. Another quick story… I had a colleague from Africa who just graduated, earned his MBA, been hired, got his first performance report. And his boss called him in and said, Hey, ‘your work is great, however, I have some concerns about your integrity.’ And my friend was shocked. He said, integrity. You know, ‘I've never been questioned about my integrity.’ And the boss said, ‘well, you know, uh, numerous times when I find you briefing me, you cast your eyes down. You don't, look at me, and I'm just, I'm wondering if you really know what you're talking about. Are you making things up?’ And my friend laughed a little and he then explained to his boss, he goes, ‘ever since I was a little boy, I have been taught that out of respect, you cast your eyes or lower your eyes.’ And the boss was able to laugh too. It was just very informative because again, where the boss was coming from is ‘you don't look someone in the eyes, you don't know what you're talking about’ and where my friend was coming from was, if he looks someone in the eyes, you're challenging their authority. So you have to be able to talk about those things.

NM : So how do we kind of take these stories and translate this into actual negotiation advice?

An Overview Of Key Points To Consider [20:08]

AD : Yeah. That's probably why people are listening, right? So, I know we're doing a lot of name-dropping, but there's just so many people who've done great work in this field. There's a lot of things to consider. Professor Jeannie Bret from Kellogg has researched and written a great deal on cross-cultural negotiation. A lot of her work demonstrates that negotiator’s cultures impact their negotiation strategies. So, how they will interact with each other, as well as their interests and priorities, which is going to be indicative then of what, or what's the potential to, to find or create integrative solutions or agreements.

NM : Yeah, so how using your understanding of another person's culture can help you to, to better develop negotiation approaches with them?

AD : That's right. Sorry. That's that's exactly right. Yeah, if you understand the other person's culture, you can then develop more effective strategies. Right? So we observe a culture, we study its artifacts, we start making sense of things, you know? So how are relationships formed? Is that through the breaking of bread? Is it through the drinking of tea? How do I demonstrate trustworthiness? What are the strong drivers of perceptions around how you negotiate, how you problem-solve or even around what are the perceptions around the different issues involved? Is there a historical component to those perceptions? Do I need to slow the process down very intentionally to, to be able to get right, what we're going to do going forward? Is it easy or difficult to discuss the differences that we're both bringing to the table based on cultural values, right? What are the basic interests and concerns that each party has? What's the appropriate appeal to standards of legitimacy, objective criteria? Is it laws, is it religion, is it tradition, or is it something else? How can I adjust my own style around the sharing of my alternative, my walkaways? Or the making of commitments, right? So understanding, you know? The ability to understand when does a handshake or just a verbal agreement actually stronger than writing it all out. Those are all different considerations.

NM : Yeah. So it sounds like you're still going to use the seven elements preparation tool. You could also find that at negotiatex.com/prep, but it sounds like you're still going to use that tool even in cross-cultural negotiations to influence, problem solve and collaborate, even during a cross-cultural negotiation. Is that correct?

AD : Yeah, that is correct. Right. Those seven elements of negotiation they give me a way to go into any culture that is different from mine. And then through the power of observation, understanding, learning, I can develop different, more effective approaches for engaging more efficiently with different people.

NM : Well, awesome to our listeners… If you are going to be doing an international type negotiation, this is something that we do at NegotiateX. Just reach out to us at team@negotiatex.com, or you can go to negotiatex.com/services, read about what we do here at NegotiateX. Alright, this is a podcast about taking action and delivering value to your organization, business and your life... with that Aram, what are some key takeaways from today's show?

Action Points [23:18]

AD : Yeah, success in cross-cultural negotiations begins with being really curious about other people, their traditions, beliefs, customs, be willing to explicitly discuss these cultural differences and how they're impacting the way we're negotiating. We should expect misunderstanding, so slow things down. And remember, like changing the lens through which we view others' cultures, we open up the possibility of new ideas and new solutions that we hadn't considered before.

NM : Yeah, and I think my key takeaway here is go onto LinkedIn. Find someone that is from that culture, buy them a coffee, connect with them, get on zoom, what have you. Really dig in deep to the culture that you're going to be going to. They're going to be able to explain it to you from most likely an American viewpoint, if you're listening to this from the United States or whatever country you are listening to, you're going to kind of be able to hear that advice from the viewpoint of which you are looking at it from. So, the next thing to the listeners, really would appreciate if you could head to apple podcasts or wherever you listen to this podcast, it would really help us out to give us a five-star rating and leave us a review. It's only going to help this podcast continue to grow.

NM : We're already pretty pumped for how far it's grown, just in the last 10 episodes. So, really thank you to our listeners and we couldn't be more humble to be able to come up here and continue doing this again. Again, we mentioned the prep tool, seven elements, prep. That's something that you can get at negotiatex.com/prep, awesome tool. And then last, if you have something that you want us to cover in future episodes, a question, anything like that, shoot it at team@negotiatex.com. We will try and cover it in future episodes until then we will see you in the next episode.

Featured EpisodesWe host some of the smartest minds in business

Join The NEGOTIATEx Team.

It is our promise that we will deliver massive value to your inbox in the form of new content notifications, exclusive content and more. Join the team today.

    Contact Us