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Negotiation Styles Around the World

Posted April 25, 2014 by Lindsay Bosch in On the Ladder

More of us have the amazing opportunity to work in a global workplace with international colleagues and clients. Yet such diverse offices can offer unique challenges of communication beyond the basics of language.  We all know that business negotiations can be difficult acts of translation–even when everyone present shares a common culture.  It takes concerted effort to sooth egos, maintain clarity, and come to consensus during meetings. When negotiations include diverse participants with varied and culturally influenced communication styles, the conversation can find itself quickly tied up in conflict and confusion.

Even worldly Career Girls find themselves lost in intercultural conversations gone awry.  I was once thrown completely off my guard when a new European client greeted me warmly with cheek kisses and embraces, plus an introduction to her family, before moving into the meeting where she yelled at me quite forcefully.  In conversation with my northern Italian family, I have to continually remind myself that no one is mad–even though everyone is talking over one another and shaking their fists.

Such interactions are the subject of the best-selling book When Cultures Collide by Richard D. Lewis. In the text Lewis, provides a practical guide to working across cultures, and aims to explain how our culture and language affect the way we think, feel, and respond to the world. Lewis’s fascinating chart of “Communication Patterns Around the World” has been making the rounds on the internet. In it the author maps out a diagram for the flow of a meeting negotiation in twenty five different countries.

I love the charts, because they don’t take themselves too seriously

  • Hungarians, we learn, have a negotiation period where “everyone talks at once”,
  • while the Swiss “calmly resist bargaining.”
  • Australian negotiations may conclude with a  “cozy, matey ending,” but be warned that Indonesian negotiations can “end in ambiguity.”

Lewis writes,

By focusing on the cultural roots behavior, both in society and business, we can foresee and calculate with a surprising degree of accuracy how others will react to our plans for them, and we can make certain assumptions as to how they will approach us.

We gain insight into the values and expectations of clients and colleagues by observing (and even mapping) the underlying flow and structure of our conversations.

Whether you believe the broad generalizations Lewis’s chart is valuable reminder that all negotiations and conversations are influenced by culture 

About the Author

Lindsay Bosch

Lindsay Bosch is an arts and nonprofit manager who has worked in cultural institutions for over decade including the American Library Association, the Art Institute of Chicago and the Chicago Film Festival. Lindsay is interested in the self-driven (and often self taught) trajectory of women’s careers in nonprofits and writes about issues related to leadership, branding and work culture. Lindsay holds a Bachelors degree in Film and Media from Northwestern Univ. and a Masters in Art History, Theory and Criticism from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. She is the coauthor of the art history textbook Icons of Beauty: Art, Culture and the Image of Women.