Overseas travel teaches you not to take for granted that people will understand what you’re trying to say. When you’re in an unfamiliar culture, you need to become more sensitive to the impact of your words and behaviour, and to take extra care against being misinterpreted. In The Negotiation Fieldbook: Simple strategies to help you negotiate everything, Grande Lum recommends adopting this mindset whenever you’re negotiating, even with someone from the same community.
“Treat all negotiations as cross-cultural,” urges Lum. His strategies for bridging the gap between negotiators include:
- Assume that you don’t know everything: If you adopt an honestly inquisitive and curious mindset, you’re less likely to miscommunicate or misunderstand. Check that you understand what the other negotiator has said, ask follow-up questions, dig for the underlying rationale and regularly summarize the progress made so far.
- Acknowledge that your perceptions are limited: When you’re traveling abroad, you’ll assume you don’t have all the information and that there may be a history you’re unaware of. You’ll also be aware that you may see things differently than people do in the country you’re visiting. You should take the same attitude even with a negotiating partner of the same nationality, understanding that each of you may view the same situation in a different way.
- Learn about the other party’s culture: Negotiators across borders usually realize the importance of spending informal time together, which allows them to gain a deeper understanding of the other side. Rapport-building outside of formal meetings is valuable even when you’re not crossing a border.
- Build trust: When dealing overseas with someone you don’t know, you won’t get far without an effort to build mutual trust. Likewise with a negotiating partner. If their behaviour seems odd, give them the benefit of the doubt to create a grace period for bridge building. Instead of jumping to a negative conclusion, ask neutral questions to help understand their behaviour, such as, “I’m interested in what you did here. Can you tell me more about it?”
© 2005 Rogers Media Inc.
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