Platt Perspective on Business and Technology

Reexamining business school fundamentals (reconsidered) 13: negotiations across cultures

Posted in reexamining the fundamentals by Timothy Platt on March 21, 2017

This is my 13th installment to a series of brief, single issue sketches in which I reconsider each of a set of core issues that I first addressed in this format in a 2010 series. See Section II of my directory: Reexamining the Fundamentals for that earlier related series, and in particular see my earlier same-name counterpart posting to this one as included there: Reexamining Business School Fundamentals – negotiations across cultures.

I said at the end of my 2010 counterpart to this posting that the need for effective negotiations and negotiating skills run through that entire series, and even when that topic remains unstated as being fundamental to addressing specific issues raised. This observation is at least as true here and now, and it is perhaps even more so as I write this 2017 series and for its progression of more single topic discussions. The emerging wrinkles and barriers to openness and connectivity and of all types: business and trade included, that I write of in this series, have tremendously increased the range of opportunity for all of us to fall into miscommunications traps and negotiations challenges. They increase both the risk and likelihood of us falling into what should be avoidable conflicts and confusions when seeking to negotiate mutually beneficial, and mutually agreed to positions for moving forward.

I wrote my 2010 posting with a specific real world example in mind that involved differences in how senior managers and executives can and often do, view their world and behave in corporate Japan and in corporate America. More specifically, I focused there on how business leaders from these two countries communicate with potential new executive hires – who might come to them from outside of their more usual recruiting circles, and certainly as more and more businesses seek out a more global reach and they find need to bring wider ranging cultural background and perspective into their overall decision making processes.

I add here that I did have a very specific executive candidate search effort in mind that did involve those two countries and those two cities in them when I wrote that earlier posting, but I was addressing much wider principles and issues as I did so. First and obviously, I selected this dually facing scenario as a relatively simple-to-outline working example of how cultural differences can impact upon communications and negotiations. The issues that I raised in it apply much more widely across business negotiating contexts than to just that one communications and negotiations scenario. But more importantly and certainly in the emerging context that I write this 2017 posting in, the communications and negotiating challenges that I addressed there in a more strictly international context, can become even more challenging within-country and across its sociopolitical divisions – and if for no other reason because we can still approach them as if more of a blind spot in our thinking. That holds to be particularly true as steepening barriers to our connecting and working with each other, have come to include disconnects in our basic understandings, and even in our mutually agreeing to the basic facts and details of empirical, real-world reality that we mutually face. I write in this regard of the increasing pervasiveness and at least seeming impermeability of the epistemic bubbles that so many of us seem to be living in and certainly as they separate us across the political divides. For references to this, as offered in this blog starting from the Republican Party nominations process leading up to the 2016 United States presidential election, see Thinking Through the Words We Use in Our Political Monologs and its follow-up postings. And also see earlier postings to this series where I have repeatedly made note of this challenge to mutual understanding.

I wrote there in a political and a national-political context but the same basic principles and the same basic issues arise in business contexts too, and certainly as they are shaped by political and legal forces (e.g. regulatory law for the later, where that is shaped and interpreted, enforced or challenged politically.)

I wrote at the end of my 2010 posting on negotiations across cultures, about how I viewed that as one of the core topics addressed in its posting series. I in fact see it as even more centrally important, and even pivotally so now as I revisit the progression of topics and issues that I raised there. And it is one that has come to hold particular meaning in an even wider range of contexts now too, in our currently so divided and divisive climate.

This, up to here, just addresses the basic underlying problem faced. What tools do we have for at least attempting to limit its impact and still be able to communicate and negotiate to mutually sustainable, agreed to conclusions?

There is no simple, magic bullet answer to that question that would cut through all of this new and increasing confusion and resistance, but I would offer a basic approach that I have found to be of help in addressing what can easily become a more resistant negotiating context. And I would summarize it with three terms: “openness to listen”, “resilience” and “persistence.”

• You cannot successfully negotiate with people for long-term solutions or resolutions if you do not understand them and what they assume. Really listen and seek to understand their underlying assumptions – where that has to include their underlying understanding of the factual reality that they and you both start from too.
• Yes, seek to convey your views and understandings too, so the people who you seek to work with in this understand you too, and in the same way. But be proactive there and take the initiative of more actively seeking to understand the people who you would negotiate with, so that among other things you can present your side of matters in terms that they would more readily understand and be able to find common ground with. Be prepared to explain your positions and your needs in their terms. The wider the range of possible misunderstandings or miscommunications, the more important this becomes. And we are currently going through a period in time when potential for this type of challenge is at a seeming high point.
• And to stress the basic and most fundamental here, strive for alignment and build from any and all points of at least tacit agreement that you might be able to discern. Effective negotiations here, have to be built from that as a starting point and with an active search for new possible sources of agreement and alignment as you proceed from there. And with that I add “patience” to my above-offered terms list.

I finish this brief note on that point and will to turn in my next series installment to address the set of issues that I looked into in 2010, in its posting: Reexamining Business School Fundamentals – change management in a rapidly changing context . Meanwhile, you can find this and other related postings and series at Reexamining the Fundamentals, with this series offered as a new Section VII in that directory.

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