Negotiating Across Cultures Like a Genius

Many of us think that good negotiating requires special talent.  Two Harvard Business School professors beg to differ.  As Deepak Malhotra and Max H. Bazerman explain in their recent release Negotiation Genius:  How to Overcome Obstacles and Achieve Brilliant Results at the Bargaining Table and Beyond,  anyone can learn systematic strategies to negotiation success.

The authors describe in detail how to claim and create value in negotiation, how to use strategies of influence, and the like.  Lawyers will hearken back to law school when the authors use the case study method as a teaching tool.

Although the book doesn’t delve deeply into cross-cultural negotiation, it does emphasize the importance of building trust between the parties–particularly in the cross-cultural context.  The authors also discuss negotiation strategies used by diplomats; high level diplomats recognize the importance of, and gathering relevant data in anticipation of, the future.  In contrast, the authors note, most negotiators focus too much on current issues and fail to look forward.


During an email exchange with Deepak Malhotra, he shared some additional thoughts about international negotiations.  First, I asked him whether there were any specific resources that he recommended about building cross-cultural negotiation skills.  He replied,  “I have yet to read a book on cross-cultural negotiation skills that has impressed me. Part of the problem is that there are too many differences across cultures, and often there are many different cultures across industries within the same country. As a result, broad (and even moderately broad) generalizations do not help much. The best resource is talking to people who have negotiated in the part of the world you’re now entering. And, even if you don’t have access to any such person, there’s nothing wrong with having a candid conversation with your counterpart in the negotiation about their (and your) perspectives and expectations.”


Second, I asked him to identify the biggest mistakes that US negotiators make during cross-cultural business negotiations, and how to avoid such mistakes.  Deepak Malhotra answered: “For the most part, gone are the days when US negotiators were so ethnocentric that they walked into a negotiation in another country assuming that everyone shares their norms and values. However, two mistakes are still quite frequent. First, many negotiators rely on stereotypes and broad generalizations regarding how ‘people in that country’ negotiate. Many of these beliefs are anchored in decades old anecdotes and folk wisdom that have not been sufficiently updated and are not particularly nuanced. Second, negotiators spend too little time on ‘cultural differences’ other than those that relate to norms and values. For example, too little time is spent understanding structural problems that can arise in a foreign country such as (1) how easy is it to run a business in that country, (2) how strong and reliable are the legal institutions in that country, (3) how much of a role does the government play in business negotiations (e.g., by controlling permits), (4) how reliable is the infrastructure (e.g., roads, communication, etc.) in that country, etc. These elements, when they are not anticipated, can entirely derail otherwise well-conceived deal.” 


Great point.  As any international business lawyer knows, such “structural problems” often make or break the deal.Many thanks to Deepak Malhotra for sharing his wisdom.  





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