Language of Negotiations Essay

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In the article “Adam Smith, John Wayne, and the American Negotiation Style,” the author states what he believes to be the fundamental rule of international negotiations: you must understand your own culture to be an effective international negotiator (Compendium 186). Knowledge of culture, style, ideals, and traits is crucial to forming an effective argument and getting positive results out of a negotiation.

I come from the United States, where our fast-paced, direct, and individualist tendencies have earned us a reputation as the world’s worst negotiators. American negotiation style is not always acceptable in other parts of the world and we must be aware of our differences and open-minded to other points of view. In this essay, I will discuss the cultural differences between the United States and other countries by examining the meaning and influence of monochromic vs. polychromic cultures, low vs. high context communication, and collectivist vs. individual cultures.

Benjamin Franklin, an American Founding Father, coined the phrase “time is money” in 1748, thereby establishing the concept of monochromism in American culture and negotiations. Citizens of monochromic countries are task and closure-oriented, preferring to complete one task at a time without disruption or distraction (Fell). Those in monochromic cultures believe that time is divided into pieces that can be arranged, scheduled, and measured. The United States hosts one of the world’s fastest paced cultures. From fast food and microwaves to our negotiations, we expect everything to be organized and efficient. This preference likely emerged during the industrial revolution, when factory life was strictly time-controlled and structured and workers’ time was seen as an important resource not to be wasted. In negotiations, though, this need for speed and structure may hurt Americans and citizens of other similar Anglo Saxon countries, as we can be seen as impatient and overly assertive.

Other cultures, like those in Latin America, Africa, and the Middle East, place a higher value on building relationships with business partners before beginning negotiations. These cultures can be described as polychromic, in that they perceive and structure time in a more relaxed way. As Fell puts it, “there is no imperative to seize the day because another will come” (Fell). Individuals in polychromic cultures are open and react to their environment and those around them, taking time to care for other people. Relationships are very important and are expected to endure. Those in polychromic cultures often view the monochromic style as uncaring and lacking in essential relationships. Negotiators can avoid frustration and confusion by gaining knowledge of how their opponent views time.

The cultural understanding of time is often indicative of the level of context in communication. High versus low context communication can be described as the amount of direct or indirect communication used in discussions. In low context cultures, negotiations involve explicitly clear and precise messages. The United States is a prime example of a low context culture, where straightforwardness and clarity are valued. To Americans, negotiations can be seen as a competition, whereas others see it as a compromise (Compendium 191). Because Americans are so focused on “winning” a negotiation, simple, direct verbal and written communication is necessary to avoid confusion and achieve the desired result of the negotiation as efficiently as possible.

Americans often make the incorrect assumption that when someone is indirect in negotiations, they lack confidence; however, high context cultures that that value indirectness can find the low context style to be too blunt and unsophisticated. High context negotiations tend to be very lengthy in order to build relationships before beginning the actual negotiation. Willingness to commit to a lengthy discussion can be seen as a test of sincerity (Global Negotiations).

Context differences also come into play when considering the four stages of an intercultural negotiation: (1) nontask soundings (rapport), (2) task-related exchange of information, (3) persuasion, and (4) concessions and agreements (Compendium 195). Stage one is very important to those high context cultures that value relationship building, while it may be brushed over by low context cultures. As I will discuss in the next section, nontask soundings are also very important in collectivist cultures (many of which also happen to be high context cultures) because it is important to establish solidarity and loyalty in groups (Global Negotiations).

The United States is also known for its citizens’ strong sense of individualism. As a relatively new country made up of immigrants, the United States has established a unique culture and way of life. When immigrants arrived in America, new citizens worked hard to succeed in the hopes of achieving the “American Dream.” The determination and desire of these newcomers shaped the “American work ethic,” which encourages competition and fortitude (Compendium 191). In America, an individual is valued on his or her personal successes and the concept of “every man for himself” is taken seriously. Workers from individualist countries value time for personal life, demanding work tasks, feelings of accomplishment, and individual recognition; however, these values tend to evoke competition. Strong independence and fierce competitiveness quickly became and still remain necessary characteristics for success in the United States.

According to a study conducted by sociologist Geert Hofstede, the United States is the most individualistic culture in the world (Compendium 177). Americans place a very high emphasis on individual accountability and self-promotion. Those in other cultures that place a higher importance on group effort often view Americans as self-centered. Because Americans recognize and reward people individually, many executives think they can handle negotiations without assistance from others and desire to take full credit for any successes (Compendium 192). “Negotiation is by definition a situation of interdependence,” though, Americans value independence and thus, may struggle (Compendium 191). Negotiations involve talking, listening, preparing, and questioning—all activities that are far easier with groups. A negotiation is a social activity and too much individualism and egotism can hurt a negotiator.

In the United States, self-identity is created through career and personal accomplishments, rather than through family or friend groups (Compendium 176). One of the first questions when meeting someone in the United States is “What do you do?” Individualist cultures are described as “Live to Work” in that people find great meaning and satisfaction in their work. A “Work to Live” mentality is more common in collectivist cultures, where people often view their work or careers as simply a means to earn a living and a job is not the central focus of one’s life.

Probably the most important characteristic of an American negotiator is individualism. The United States of America was founded on the notion of individualism. Individualism is deeply embedded in our legal, education, and social systems. Growing up, Americans are encouraged to be responsible for their own actions and to see themselves as a unique individual. We are taught to be autonomous and self-reliant and we feel wasteful if we do not push to succeed. The concept of individualism is extremely important in negotiations because of the competitiveness it breeds. American negotiators are not subtle in the least bit and many American executives will stop at nothing to “win” a negotiation. Though Americans can be seen as overly assertive, individualism is core to our culture and makes us who we are as people and a nation.

The concepts discussed in this essay can be illustrated by the Konopnicka Airport negotiation. In this case, Laumann, a German construction company, negotiated a contract with the Polish Airports Administration to construct additions to the Konopnicka Airport in Poland. The two parties disputed over project financing, operation and management of the airport, loan repayment terms, building schedule, and risk allocation. It was seen that although they are very close geographically, Poland and Germany have great differences in negotiation style.

One difference in negotiation style is a result of differing views of time. Germany is an example of a monochromic country in which time is very controlled and adherence to schedules is expected. In Germany, missing a deadline indicates lack of organization and inefficiency. This perception was highlighted while discussing construction timeline. In the negotiation, it was important for the German construction company to request a 30-month deadline instead of two years so that they could guarantee that they would meet their deadline. Also, in our class negotiation, the German side frequently provided performance milestones, which shows their tendency to schedule time. Poland, on the other hand, can be described as a moderate time culture and it is acceptable to have more flexibility in their schedules and deadlines (Cross Cultural Awareness Training).

Germany, like the US, is a low context country. Germans value direct communication and can be extremely blunt and direct. Germans are not afraid to directly say “no,” as evidenced many times in the Konopnicka Airport negotiation (Cross Cultural Awareness Training). In the negotiation, the Germans did not wish to spend much time in stage one (building relationships) and quickly moved on to discussing task-related information. Poland is a high context culture. Poles like to do business with people they trust, thus, personal relationships are highly valued and one must take the time to establish them before negotiations. Although Poles follow this characteristic of high context society, they tend to be more straightforward and frank in their negotiations than more typical high context cultures.

According to Geert Hofstede’s culture index scores, Germany and Poland are very similar with regard to individualism/collectivism (IDV)—Germany scoring a 67 in IDV and Poland scoring a 60 (Compendium 177-179). These high and similar scores show that both countries lean more towards the individualist side of the spectrum than collectivist. In our class negotiation, both parties were very willing to compromise, which is an indication of individualist ideals. Also, both parties had only one representative, showing the individualist belief that an individual has the authority to handle negotiations by themselves and take full credit for success.

The Konopnicka Airport case was an excellent example because it showed how two cultures with different views of time and context of communication were able to work together for a successful negotiation.

International negotiations require an understanding of different cultures, customs, and perspectives. What is acceptable practice in one country may be interpreted as inappropriate or insulting in another. The most important lesson one can learn from international negotiations is that different people have different perspectives and priorities and differences must be acknowledged and respected in all dealings. The article “Cross Cultural Awareness Training” reiterates that “cross cultural negotiations is about more than just how foreigners close deals. It involves looking at all factors that can influence the proceedings” (Cross Cultural Awareness Training).

The factors of monochromic and polychromic cultures, collectivist and individualist cultures, and high and low context cultures show how varied negotiation styles can be. In my country, the United States of America, monochromism, high context communication, and most importantly, individualism are valued. These trends were established throughout our history and are deeply rooted in our institutions. Americans are bred to be competitive, direct, and self-reliant. In other parts of the world, like Asia, Latin America, and the Middle East, a laid-back, collective approach is the norm. Whatever a negotiator’s culture, with a little knowledge, understanding, and an open mind, a successful negotiation is possible.

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