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The Power of Understanding

Increasing Negotiation and Leadership Performance through the Power of Understanding


Negotiation and the Power of Understanding

Global Negotiation and the Power of Understanding

Today I’m preparing for an around the world trip.  My travels begin in the US and stop first in Shanghai to work with executives from New Zealand.  Then it’s next to Munich for a few days on my way to Saudi Arabia to collaborate with officials at a development bank before coming back home to the US.

In preparation for my adventure, I am reminded how similar and different we are as citizens of the globe.  While my colleagues abroad and I do not often consider our interactions and discussions as “formal negotiations”, the truth is that much of the communication we have or projects we design must satisfy not only our joint goals, but also our diverse cultural values.

In order for my job as an educator to be successful, effective, and meaningful, I need to take some time (which I have very little of right now!) to reflect on how not only my needs can be met, but also how I can help meet the needs of those I will work with in the next couple weeks.  I have found that the best way to prepare for a mutual gains negotiation is to review the best practices of cross-cultural negotiation.

Here are the basic tips from both academic research and global executives who practice this every day in our graduate negotiation classes at Thunderbird.

1.  Appreciate the Impact of Culture

National or organizational culture is complex and often difficult to understand and manage.  Tangible elements as language, food, dress, religion, and customs can be studied quite easily.  However, it is also important to appreciate the intangible beliefs and assumptions which are largely invisible.  Remember to pay attention to the emotional roots of behavior.  For example, where direct and assertive communication may be expected, reinforced and rewarded in the US, it may not be expected or rewarded in China.

2.   Prepare for Cultural Competence

Cultural competence is the ability to reduce the risks and maximize the opportunities inherent in cultural differences and similarities.  This also includes how performance is rewarded and how success is determined.  In diverse global organizations and interdependent marketplace, this ability is increasingly important.  A competency in cultural awareness enables more effective responsiveness, speed and adaptability in multicultural situations.  An understanding of this creates the power to fuel innovation, growth, speed, high performance and adaptability.

3. Analyze Cultural Gaps

The full impact and importance of a new culture only becomes evident when we experience a cultural gap.  This often is thought of as a clash of different behaviors, such as extending our hand when the other person bows.  But these are really just behavioral expressions of a cultural gap.  Most gaps are not easily detectable, more prevalent, and can create distrust.  For example, for someone who expects fixed time as a value, they will have very negative emotional reactions when their client or partner habitually arrives late or does not keep a reliable time schedule.  The ability to analyze in a nonjudgmental way about national or organizational cultures becomes a must.  The cognitive skill to understand where fluid time is expected vs. fixed time increases the ability to manage stress and frustration.  This power of understanding is a resource necessary for potential difficult situations.

4. Practice Cultural Due Diligence

Cultural due diligence is a form of risk assessment that determines the cultural backgrounds and preferences of colleagues, counterparts, and clients.  It is also an evaluation of potential cultural gaps and the impact this can have on the ability to achieve our own objectives. Cultural due diligence also includes developing a strategy to minimize negative effects of actual cultural gaps.   Cultural due diligence is best exercised by understanding the history, background and experiences that have shaped the perspective, outlook and value system of the individuals or groups with whom we are going to interact and communicate with.  The cultural orientation of a social group represents the values which are favored, expected or desired by the members in that organization or national group.  If a project team you are about to lead has an orientation toward informality, for example, that group would tend to be less comfortable with formal protocol and rituals.  Your strategy would be to lead more effectively by engaging them by dispensing with ceremony and protocol.  This level of understanding provides the power necessary to be an effective global leader.

5. Practice Style Switching

Style switching is adapting to a different cultural context, situation or expectation through changing behavior.  Mastery of this skill requires a clear sense of our own cultural identity and our general and specific flexibility and practice at many styles.  Individuals are capable of style switching along a broad behavioral range.  However, the energy associated with style switching needs to be enhanced and the emotional attachments to cultural values requires reflection and understanding.  In order to be effective and satisfied with style switching behaviors, we need a clear understanding of our own core values which are tied to our sense of self.  This requires a willingness to be flexible where it does not threaten our sense of self.  Style switching is most required when we are emotionally least prepared for it, often when we are tired or at impasse in a negotiation.

Building adaptive, flexible behaviors and skills is possible and requires mastery of our own personal cultural awareness through reflection and introspection, as well as the willingness to stretch experiment our comfort zone of behaviors.  Through this power of understanding global negotiations can meet mutual needs and lead to more enjoyment and satisfaction with the results.

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