July 28, 2022

Knowing Yourself in Intercultural Negotiation; 4 Pillars of International Negotiation

Plato included the phrase from the Oracle of Delphi “Know thyself” into his writings and it is excellent practice to do the same when it comes to negotiation.

Pillars 2, 3 and 4 of successful intercultural negotiation are first and foremost about ‘knowing thyself’ before you start to use the same skills and techniques to know the members of the other party

Pillar 2: The people skills

An excellent start to ‘knowing thyself’ is getting to know your own behavioral style. The fastest and most effective way to understand your behavioral style is through a validated psychometric assessment. There are hundreds of psychometric tools in the world, but we love the Everything DiSC® suite of assessments. The Everything DiSC® assessments offer a powerful way to understand how you are wired from a behavioral style point of view. The Everything DiSC® model is also something you can keep ‘front of mind’ when you are in the thick of a negotiation; it is easy to remember.

Knowing your own behavioral style will help you understand how you might show up in negotiation or what might trigger you when things get tough. Although we highly recommend you complete your own Everything DiSC® Assessment, the Everything DiSC® summary sheet below will give basic insights into what to expect from yourself in negotiation, what negative triggers could happen to you, and what pitfalls you might have to mitigate.

To give a few examples:

  • If your behavioral style is more ‘C’ oriented, you want to use your expertise to prove your competence. This can be to your advantage in negotiation but can also turn against you if you focus on the details too much.

  • If your behavioral style is ‘i’ oriented, you might prefer to keep your options open but if you need to bring the negotiation to a close you might have to rehearse how to go against your natural vibe or alternatively, bring a colleague along who is better at closing.

Having a deep understanding of your behavioral style is crucial to understanding what might trigger you while negotiating: Rejection, being seen as incompetent, being taken advantage of, disapproval, relational tension, having to put your foot down, etc. Knowing your own triggers and learning how to navigate them is crucial to up your negotiation game.
Lastly, I want to point out that every behavioral style has limitations, some of these limitations can come in the form of doing too much of what you are good at (e.g., overusing your detail orientation, or overusing your desire for conflict avoidance, overusing keeping your options open, etc.). If these limitations show up in negotiations you can lose credibility, relational credit and potentially the deal. Learning to own your limitations is a crucial part of connecting in a meaningful way across the negotiation table.
Owning your limitations will also give you greater understanding and empathy if the limitations of the party on the other side of the table start showing up during negotiations. Instead of being harsh and critical, use your knowledge of their behavioral style to re-establish neutrality, calm, focus, or create a moment that deflects from an uncomfortable moment.
The Everything DiSC® overview sheet below shows you how different behavioral styles bring different ‘ingredients’ into the negotiation and knowing what you bring and learning to ‘read’ the other party is crucial to negotiation success.

Pillar 3: Emotional Intelligence

I have heard people say that in negotiation you must check your emotions at the door. Because of the incredible progress made in neuroscientific research, we have learned that ‘checking your emotions at the door’ is neurologically impossible. Besides that: it is also plain stupid when it comes to negotiation!

We are emotional human beings and every time we draw a conclusion, make a decision, or get clarity about a situation our brain automatically triggers an emotional response. The amygdala and hypothalamus work so fast that the emotion-related chemicals (neuropeptides) sometimes are already in the bloodstream and the brain before we even become aware of the emotion.The more we learn to be emotionally aware of ourselves and others, the more we will learn to navigate emotions. This sets us up to neutralize and channel the impact of negative emotions and leverage the presence of positive emotions.Research has revealed a wide variety of emotional abilities (Emotional Intelligence). Each one of these emotional abilities can be beneficial in negotiation situations.

There are 8 emotional intelligence skills listed below. Most people find 3 – 5 of them relatively easy and the others much more difficult. Being aware of which ones come easily to you and which ones you find more difficult, is a huge game changer in negotiation. Once you learn how to recognize different types of Emotional Intelligence in yourself, you can then use the same techniques to recognize them in others.

  • Dynamic: Initiating action, influencing people

  • Outgoing: Establishing relationships, emotional expression

  • Empathizing: seeking to understand, understanding people’s needs

  • Receptive: Staying open to others’ ideas, compromise

  • Composed: moderating your response, exercising diplomacy

  • Objective: separating facts from emotions, use logic

  • Resolute: standing your ground, speaking up about problems

  • Self-Assured: asserting your opinion, projecting confidence

The Everything DiSC® Agile EQ™ assessment is a powerful tool to discover your natural Emotional Intelligence Strengths. It allows you to articulate practical EQ development strategies and shows you who you need to team up with to create an emotionally well-rounded team.

Pillar 4: Cultural Agility

We already talked about reading people at the Personality/Behavioral Style level as well as reading people from an Emotional Intelligence perspective. Pillar 4 talks about reading people from a cultural point of view.

My first major intercultural negotiation was a fiasco. In retrospect, I was ill-equipped, relied on stereotypical information, and used external clues to draw superficial conclusions about the person on the other side of the table.

By and large, humanity still thinks about culture at the ‘broad brush strokes’ level. The average American, the average Brazilian, all the Chinese negotiate like this, and all the Nigerians negotiate like that. It’s about time we get beyond the ‘broad brushstrokes approach’.

KnowledgeWorkx has developed a methodology that allows you to culturally ‘people read’ at the personal level. We believe that each person has their own unique cultural wiring. When you negotiate, you want to connect with the individual(s) in front of you, not with cultural averages based on externalities or the passport they might carry.

To become Culturally Agile in negotiation we need to learn to recognize the cultural motivators and demotivators of ourselves and the people in the meeting. Do you know what your own cultural drivers are and can you successfully recognize the cultural drivers of the people around the table?

Let me give you an example of a scenario we see repeated often:

Let’s say you must prepare for a negotiation with a counterpart who is highly driven by an honor / shame culture, but you come from an innocence / guilt driven culture. Your cultural driver is wanting to know the exact details of the deal, the sequence of events, the finer contractual points and the specifications of products or services that are to be discussed, and these are what you concentrate on during the meeting.

Your counterpart however will be evaluating the situation from an honor / shame perspective and will therefore want to know how selling the service to his company can bring him and his company honor and how it can be beneficial to him. He will also want to know how to sell this to his boss. So, whilst you’re discussing the finer details of the product, your counterpart is more interested in how it will make her, her boss, and the company look if they sign with you. The way it makes her look is more important than the superiority of your product or service.I have seen contracts go to well-known companies just because of the ‘fame-factor’ and the way it would look in the press release, even though smaller niche players might have a far superior product.

Another common intercultural dilemma in negotiation has to do with decision-making authority. As an individual from a Northern European country, you are more likely to be given full authority to negotiate on behalf of the organization. More than likely you will also have been given a range of possible outcomes that you are allowed to make decisions on.

If the party on the other side of the negotiation table comes from a more community accountability culture, their role might be more reflective of the interests of the community, tribe, subgroup, or business unit of their organization. So, they will not have individual decision-making authority, they will be expected to bring back the ideas to the larger group or senior leaders in the business so that they can be discussed, and a group decision can be made.

In another negotiation, a more individual accountability-oriented negotiator put pressure on a community-oriented negotiation party to make up their mind in the meeting. The community-oriented negotiation party didn’t want to shame the other party and ended up saying what the individual oriented negotiator wanted to hear. When the individual accountability-oriented negotiator came out of the negotiation, he was excited and told me he ‘clinched the deal’. Unfortunately, I had to tell him that the negotiation wasn’t over yet because of how he had conducted himself. Within one week the other party came back with more demands and changes to the structure of the deal and they had to go back to the drawing board.In another situation you may think that the meeting has gone well because your counterpart was very agreeable and didn’t share any concerns (which reads: didn’t want to offend you)— But after the meeting, she takes her experience of the meeting to her group, and they will make a decision behind closed doors without your presence. If you are selling in a community accountability-oriented context, you can expect that more meetings are required upfront, so expecting an outcome at the first meeting is somewhat unrealistic.

One of the reasons why negotiations fail has to do with a lack of understanding of all stakeholders. Who is truly involved, in front of the camera and behind the scenes? Where do their alliances lie, what motivates them and to whom are they accountable?Another crucial intercultural consideration has to do with direct and indirect communication.

There are plenty of examples where direct and indirect communication styles have caused clashes and where cultural communication styles weren’t respected.

Asking questions like: “Tell me what you don’t like about our offer?” are seriously conflicting for an indirect communicator. Instead asking an indirect question like: “What would you see as a value proposition that you can present to your boss?”, will likely develop more relational capital and will allow you to gather more valuable insights.Merely ‘cultural’ intelligence (knowing a lot about certain cultures) ignores in-group and out-group effects.

The value of Cultural Agility isn’t just in understanding one set of cultural dynamics so that you can prepare a standard negotiation technique for each nationality or ethnicity. (e.g., the negotiation method for the average Danish, Argentinian, or Sri Lankan).

Whilst there is ample material available to help you negotiate with the average nationality, what these materials don’t tell you is how to deal with in-group / out-group effects. They are also not very helpful if people have a mixed cultural background (Third Culture Kids: TCKs) or are from one nationality but have lived long periods of time in multiple cultures (Cross Culture Kids: CCKs).

People don’t behave the same when they are taken out of their normal environment, and it is hard to predict how they might behave outside their familiar context, (e.g., the Danes that you are used to dealing with in Denmark will behave differently when you meet them around the negotiating table in China).

It is yet another reason why learning to read cultural preferences ‘in the moment’ is so important to the negotiation process. Using tools like the Three Colors of Worldview and the 12 Dimensions of Culture equip you with a culturally neutral framework, language, and method to successfully negotiate across the world, no matter who is on the other side of the negotiating table.

If you want to ‘up your game’ in negotiating across cultures, start a conversation with us.

Read the first article on “The Four Pillars of Successful International Negotiations: Best Practices” here.

Are you missing the key ingredient to negotiating successfully across the globe? If you want your negotiators to be truly effective contact us to find out more about Inter-Cultural Intelligence.

Check out more articles on our KnowledgeWorkx Resource  page.

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