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The Power of Understanding

Increasing Negotiation and Leadership Performance through the Power of Understanding


Laws of Power 9: Practice Cultural Gap Analysis

By Karen S. Walch, Ph.D.

Thucydides in 400 BC wrote in the Peloponnesian War that Pausanias, a Spartan, lost his status and power within his own ranks because of his lack of cultural awareness. In Pausanias’ case, he “went native” by falling in love with and flaunting the joys he found in Persian culture and luxury. Pausanias held his own native Greek culture of simplicity and discipline in distain. In classic laws of power, this outward infatuation with the foreign and disregard for one’s own national culture is offensive and subject to punishment.

The Spartan military ultimately demanded the arrest of Pausanias because of his superior attitude toward his own countrymen and for his unwillingness to abide by the normal Spartan social rules and customs. Pausanias refused to surrender, became trapped, and was forced to die of starvation.

A dictum of classic laws of power asserts that you will be punished for “too” much curiosity about a foreign culture, even if the punishment becomes mere isolation which will render you powerless. You cannot maintain power within your own ranks if you do not “measure and moderate a desire and pleasure in alien ways of thinking and acting.”

This week we will continue the discussion about contemporary globalization and the impact of cultural differences for negotiation.  Today, culturally unaware negotiators may not be arrested and forced into a cruel death because of their lack of social intelligence.  However, the need to style switch to national and corporate cultures other than our own has increased as a result of cross-border and cross-functional communication, mobility, migration, trade and investment.

Negotiators who operate in intercultural negotiation situations have learned the value of style switching as a way to manage the potential cultural conflicts between and among negotiators.

A significant source of power in the 21st century is founded on cross-cultural competencies and the ability to think and collaborate with those from many diverse national origins. Negotiation performance and satisfaction is increased through practices of cultural gap analysis and skills of switching styles.  Although there is some discussion that negotiation practices are becoming more uniformed and standardized in the contemporary economic market, national and corporate cultural differences in negotiation styles continue to persist.

A negotiator’s power can be enhanced through mindfulness and practices of building trust, credibility and rapport in cross-cultural settings. This includes the capability to influence within one’s own corporate or national cultural teams, AND outside of one’s own cultural boundaries. Something Pausanias in 400 BC failed to learn to do!

Power and influence is increased through the skills of cultural due diligence and the ability to assess and plan for the possible effects of cultural differences in interactions both internal and external to your negotiation team.

The ability to do a cultural gap analysis is a critical skill for understanding both internal and external negotiation interactions, relationships and expectations. One’s power and influence is enhanced by assisting others to decode the cultural norms and mentoring others regarding the adaptive approaches required in new and “foreign” cultural settings.

Style switching is the ability to use broad and flexible behaviors appropriate to the given situation. A negotiator’s power is increased through practices of listening, clarifying cultural underpinnings of behavior and performance, closing cultural gaps and creating a dialogue which foster insights and transformation of the relationships among and between team members. Personal relationships with colleagues from one’s own national culture and with those from other national cultures have a tremendous effect on the speed, assurance and accuracy of information required in a negotiation.

A useful tool to assist with the cultural gap analysis and cultural competencies is from TMC known as the (COI) Cultural Orientations Indicator® as “a web-based self-reporting tool. Through the reliable assessment of an individual’s cultural preferences and comparative analyses, negotiators acquire the awareness and knowledge necessary for building effective skills and behavioral adaptations for multicultural negotiations.

The COI® generates an analysis of cultural gaps by comparing your own COI® cultural profile with national and regional cultural profiles, and it reveals similarities and differences as well as potential culture-based risk and success factors. On the basis of these results, negotiators can develop effective cross-cultural management and business strategies.

The COI defines and assesses 10 cultural dimensions and has practical value to anyone who needs to reconcile, integrate or transcend cultural difference in order to obtain a desired outcome in a negotiation. The practice of cultural gap analysis helps negotiators to identify one’s own hidden values, expectations, and drivers of negotiation behaviors.  If you are not familiar with the COI, check out the tool at culturalnavigator.com.

Law 9 Exercise

The following are a few of the cultural practices used by negotiators who have had success in negotiating with those from their own “home” culture and those from “foreign” ones.

A. Practice mindfulness and allow cultural differences to be visible and acknowledged.

B. Clarify own core values and practice versatility to adapt to different circumstances

C. Seek out best practices from elements throughout your own culture and from around the world

D. Utilize cultural differences creatively to seek solutions from multiple perspectives and find one that is mutually acceptable.

Extra Credit

For more resources read, Cultural Orientations Guide: The Roadmap to Building Cultural Competence), Joerg Schmitz (Princeton Training Press, 2006) and Working GlobeSmart: 12 People Skills for Doing Business Across Borders, Ernest Gundling (Davies-Black Publishing, 2003).

48 Laws for 21st Century Global Negotiators: Join Thunderbird Professor Karen S. Walch, Ph.D., as she explores the laws of power for 21st century global negotiators. Each Monday she discusses one law and provides an exercise to identify and enhance individual negotiation power. Go to the main menu for the series.

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