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Welcome back to the NEGOTIATEx podcast! Aram and Nolan continue their conversation with Mala Subramaniam, a corporate speaker, executive coach, published author and cross-cultural trainer who offers a blend of Eastern and Western philosophies for negotiations. If you haven’t listened to the first part of the discussion, Mala introduced her 8 rules for negotiators to develop an “Eastern Mindset”.
This week, we kick things off with a relevant question: how does gender play a role in the mentor-mentee dynamic? In Mala’s experience (she stresses that she’s not generalizing), women have a natural foresight that lets them think beyond the short-term. They are more solution driven, however, they also tend to live with more fears than their male counterparts. Overall, she finds women to be a lot more receptive to her coaching than men.
She gives the example of a situation where she had to mediate a conflict within a company where a man and a woman were both competing for the same promotion. While the lady followed Mala’s advice of building a campaign showcasing her accomplishments to get the team behind her, the gentleman ignored her and went through with a straight-forward approach of demanding a promotion. In the end, the lady became a director while the gentleman left the company as a result of being overlooked.
This example illustrates how women and men take different approaches to problem solving. While men are more transaction driven, women tend to be less interested in deal-making and more inclined towards long-term relationship building.
Like gender, culture also plays an important role in one’s approach to negotiations. Mala goes on to stress that culture is not monolithic; a man from rural India would have a completely different set of traditional beliefs than a woman from urban Mumbai. Having said that, in her professional career she has observed that people in America tend to be more individualistic, allowing them to be freer when negotiating with complete strangers. In India, negotiations are tied to pre-established relationships. This was one of the main reasons why the outsourcing model of business did not see success for some time. Simple cultural differences like saying “I’ll try” meaning something completely different in India than in the US is what held outsourcing back for many years. The Indian value system is historically and culturally tied to hierarchical structures, so it’s difficult for an employee to say something negative to a superior. Unfortunately, this leads to misunderstandings and miscommunication.
Once cultural training happens to both parties, it becomes a lot easier to understand where the other side is coming from. Mala trains Indians to understand that Western businesses are independent, process-driven and transactional. Similarly, she teaches Americans that people in Eastern nations are more relationship and community-driven and they have to lay down the processes to get the expected results.
According to Mala, the biggest challenge business leaders are facing today is employee disengagement. Leaders are not thinking like leaders, nor are they asking the right questions. This leads to employees feeling like they have nothing to add to the company or its values. Going to work and interacting with colleagues should help people feel fulfilled with their positions. But when they’re working from home alone, they feel disconnected and are painfully aware of how boring their jobs actually are. This is the main trigger for the “Great Resignation”. Mala’s solution for this phenomenon is to cultivate creative leadership. Incentives, vacation packages and bonuses can only go so far unless employees feel personally engaged with the goals of the company.
Mala shares more insights in this discussion with your NEGOTIATEx team! You should definitely check out her book Beyond Wins | Eastern Mindset For Success In Daily Business Negotiations. Please write to us at firstname.lastname@example.org if you’d like to share your own cross-cultural negotiation experiences.
Thank you for listening.
Nolan Martin : Thanks for sharing that Mala I think those eight rules are pretty powerful. I think we just like hearing about different people's frameworks, rules, anything that they follow when it comes to negotiations. My next kind of follow up here is: as a mentor and a coach to other negotiators, how does gender play a role in the direction that you provide?
Mala Subramaniam : That's a good question. And the thing is, women are not from my experience- you know, I don't want to generalize to the entire universe- from the many people that I have taught, the many people that I have coached, women and men; what I feel is that women are able to think a little bit beyond today. They're more long term in their approach. At the same time, they have a lot of fears. What if I go in and ask and they say no, what do I do? The fear of outcome, fear of conflicts, fear of offending other people. So more sensitive to all the fears and, and that's what I feel the thing of, you know, they're not into deal making. It's not about, “I want this” and, and women also what I feel are more like what I'm saying, more problem and solutions driven. And this is what I jokingly tell people that for me, it's easier to teach women what I'm saying, the rules than with men.
Men are like, are you kidding me? [Laughs] Right? You're saying, so for instance, I'm going to give example of one female and one male so that I can illustrate what I'm saying rather than just talking in concepts.
Aram Donigian : Yeah, please do.
MS : These two were in a company that you know, the Vice President had called me in saying, “okay, there's a lot of conflict here. Can you come in? Is this cross-cultural or is this?” And I went in, I talked to them and I said, no, no, no. This has nothing to do with cross-cultural. This is to do with the woman and a man, and their perspectives. Particularly in India, if you are a male and you come from more of a rural setting, you are very traditional. You have these expectations. And if a woman comes from say Bombay, which is like the New York city type, then they're very different.
So I said, this is nothing to do with real cross-cultural communications. So I went and the woman said, “I have to go to my boss and I want to be promoted. And it's this guy that is standing in the way. So what do I do?” So then I very clearly explained to her that instead of going and demanding and cornering the person and making them say no and feel uncomfortable, why don't you start a campaign of building yourself up, send in your accomplishment grid, create a list of accomplishments and send it to everybody. Start sending it to a certain level and slowly move up, escalate it. And within two weeks, people will start perceiving you differently and then make it impossible for your boss to say no to whatever it is that you feel you deserve. You know, that's a need. And don't go there saying, “I want a promotion”.
Explain to them why you being a director would help you accomplish projects in this company. And she was able to do it beautifully, she did exactly what I advised and what I said, I'm not gonna guarantee. And I'm also not going to insist. She was able to think about it more broadly, and she was able to approach it that way. And she became a director in six months. It didn't happen overnight. When I asked her, what is your goal? She said, gain visibility. I said, no that's not a goal. That's a dangerous goal. You don't want to gain visibility with the wrong thing. And then I talked to the gentleman and he said, “Why should I? They all know my accomplishments. They know I've worked here for so long. They should give me the promotion. I'm going to go and ask. And I'm going to tell them how much they have to pay me.”
He had to get out of the company because he asked and they refused and he was unhappy. So it's the women who are more willing to listen to the strategic way of doing things. In my experience, men are like immediate, this is what, the thing, the deal I need. And men are more about contracts, terms and conditions, very transaction driven. Women are more strategic relationship driven and they're more multitasking too. So that's where I found the difference. When I teach, then I realized when I work with men, then I have to give a different way of doing it, a different approach. With women, it's a different approach. Did that address your question Nolan?
NM : Yes, absolutely. I appreciate it.-
AD : Kind of building from that. You talked a little bit about the cultural value system, driving things a little bit, and that as you started that piece, can you talk a little bit more about cross-culturally why value systems matter so much Mala and how do you help clients avoid cultural clashes unnecessarily?
MS : I think the best way to do it is to have them understand where the other culture is coming from. Cause I've done a lot of presentations and when I've gone there objectively showing all the sociological theory about culture, rather than going and saying, “This is what people in America do, this is what people in India do”. These are the behaviors. One company asked me, “can you give me the top 10 approaches to handling cross-cultural behaviors, you know, the top 10 list, uh, to handling people. And this was a company that is Western saying, “can you tell me how to handle- tricks to handle Indians, Asian Indians”? And I said, “no, I'm not going to do that.” Because each person is different. I can give you the background and then you figure out how you want to respond to that. And most of cross-cultural problems that happen is a reaction about how you want us to respond.
So to gain a cultural understanding, you know, for instance, America is all about individualistic, independent transaction driven. In America, you can bargain or negotiate with a total stranger and there would be no problem at all. It's all about terms, conditions, contracts, prices, product delivery. It's all a very clear thing. It's very process driven. Whereas the Asian countries are more about relationships. They're not going to talk to anybody that they don't know. So if you want to deal with somebody in India, you have to find someone that can make the introduction to you. And that's about relationship. Contract means nothing. They'll sign a contract, but then the real negotiation starts after the contract is signed because that's when you really- and that's what a lot of the companies here in this country found that the outsourcing model was failing because Western thing was “okay, I've signed the contract, they're gonna do what, I ask them to do. And they're going to deliver it on time.”
Time is a totally different concept in India. Time is about movements, right? It's not about a stationary- nine o'clock is not nine o'clock in India. It's somewhere in between. And in fact, the term for time in India's is “kal”, “kal” means movement of space. So the orientation is totally different. Once the people here understood- for instance in India, they'll say, “I'll try”, which means “I'm not gonna do it. I'm just being polite.” So it's a very indirect way. A lot of the people who are raised here, they said, “oh, I'll try.” That means he's gonna try. And they sit down and then they get very upset when they find out that they're not even trying, right.
They're called for a meeting on Sunday. And they said, “Okay, we'll try, we’ll be there.” And then they found out they were at a wedding. So what one of the companies where I did the lecture, they said, “I wish you had come in and talked before we signed the contract, because then we would not have wasted hours and hours and hours fine tuning all the contracts, getting the best lawyers.” And this is a very big company I'm talking about. And they had millions of dollars in this project. To me you have to understand the values, the Indian values are based on when you look at the history, India is all about Kings, hierarchy, royalty, and, and that still carries on relationships. In India, the people would not even say anything negative to their boss. If they cannot do something, they're not gonna say that to the boss.
So that's the way they interact with the client. The client is like their boss. So they interact with them that way so you have to understand where they're coming from. Once the Americans understood where they're coming from, it was not like Indians are being dishonest or they're lazy, there was no stigma attached to that relationship. It was more like, “okay, that's where they come from so now, we understand this is what we have to do.” And I tell the same thing when I give lectures to Indians in India, that in America is very independent. It's very process driven. It's transactional. They're not gonna waste time getting to know you in order to sign a deal with you. And now what I teach Americans is when you are working with a country that is not process driven, not transaction driven, but more relationship driven community, and things like hierarchy matter, then you have to lay down the process. You have to teach them what processes you have to put, the timelines and the expectations, and what'll happen if you don't meet the expectations.
AD : So Mala, as you talked through that, it, it just took me back to what you were saying about communication signal, at the beginning and not talking at, or to someone, but talking with communicating with someone. And it sounds like in cross-cultural, that becomes really important as you have different perspectives on time process versus relationship and other dynamics occurring
MS : Yeah. And what happens is they never came to a common understanding before they signed the contract. Without common understanding, there's no negotiation, it's a bargain.
AD : Well, Mala, here we are in 2022. The last time you and I talked, we were the early stages of this pandemic. And you know, the world continues to change so much. I'm curious, as you continue to work with clients here, given supply chain channels and or challenges and other things from a negotiation perspective, what are your concerns? What do you see as the big obstacles, and or opportunities that your clients or you see businesses facing today?
MS : Sure. I hear a lot about the great resignation and how people are leaving in droves and companies are trying to give them incentives, bonuses, time off and everything. But still that is not making a dent on the main problem. I think the main problem that I see, which requires a kind of a creative leadership is employees are disengaged. They are not engaged with the company, with the values, with what they're doing. So that's why, you know, for instance, when you are constantly going to work, you're interacting with people and everything, all that noise drowns out how boring your job is. I don't wanna say that, but you know, you're kind of looking at all those things and are enamored by all that. And the real value you are adding to this job is lost. And then when you are alone, you're sitting down, I'm sitting here doing my work. Then suddenly that kind of comes to the surface. Okay. What is the purpose of what I'm doing? What is the meaning? Where is the mission I'm not engaged? So that disengaged. What leaders have to do- the negotiation here is- what can I offer that will engage the employees?
AD : Do you think leaders see that as a negotiation? Are they understanding that that's a negotiation?
MS : I don't think so, because I'll give you an example. I read about it a lot. I was reading it in all the publications. I was reading some articles in LinkedIn and they were talking about how this company is great. They have this diversity and inclusion manager and that they are giving all these incentives. They're giving vacation packages to employees and everything, and I'm thinking, oh boy, you got it all wrong. The people are not engaged. A vacation package, that's great. I'll go. And then I'll quit after I take the vacation because I've quit your company. The mindset mind is no longer engaged. I've quit. So what do you do to engage? So maybe the three of us can work on a negotiation for engaging the employees. Dr. Deming is one of the, the guru of process change and change management and total quality management.
He went to a company and the director of that company came in and showed a cupboard full of all these plaques and awards and things like that. And Dr. Deming said “throw all of them because that's not what is going to get the commitment from the employees or change or improve the company.” So I think they're missing the boat because the leaders are not thinking like leaders. They are not thinking in the audience’s language. They are not looking at the audience. They're not even asking the right questions. When I saw a survey. And I said, no, no, no, you are not asking the right questions because when you don't ask the right questions, you're not going to get the right answers. I can talk forever about that. But that is, I think the main issue: employees are disengaged. And the negotiation is about, what is the common problem? What is the solution and how do we come to a common ground on the options?
NM : Well, Mala, as we start to close this thing out, I was wondering, is there anything that we didn't ask?
MS : No, I think you addressed everything. I think all your questions, I think basically surfaced the responses I would normally give. It was almost like a class on negotiation. [Laughs] So I only said things that I had in my mind and what I could share. The one thing that I would definitely request people is to, well, read my book before you go to a negotiation class because you would benefit more from it because that way you're not going to let the tools and the techniques overpower you and use that rather than using your own intelligence to see when and how to use these tools and techniques appropriately. I think that would be the biggest takeaway for me, for anybody listening to this podcast is get internally focused and find out what your strengths are and then see how you can use the tools and techniques to leverage. And I think that would be the biggest lesson or takeaway from our conversation.
NM : Thank you so much Mala. Thank you so much for your time and joining us on the podcast. I know that we both really appreciate it.
AD : Yeah. I'll, I'll just echo that Mala. Thank you so much for joining us folks. I really encourage you to go grab Mala's book Beyond Wins. You will enjoy it. The internal focus so important. My takeaway today is the focus on success, right? That it is a journey it's, it's focused on long term. It really build consensus about what is the problem it's solution driven. And then as Mala was just talking about challenges that companies are facing. There's a focus when you're success oriented. There's a focus on leadership negotiation as a critical skill for leaders and just can't overemphasize that enough. So again with that Mala, thank you for being with us.
MS : Thank you. Thank you. This was really good.
NM : Hey, thanks for listening to today's episode. If you could please rate, review and subscribe to our podcast, we greatly appreciate it. And we'll see you in the next episode.
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