Negotiation And Culture

Negotiation is an area of interest for me. It is widely used not only in almost all aspects of business, but also life itself.  I had many experiences involving the art of negotiation as I grew up, as most people in Turkey do, be it with a handyman doing repairs or with the guy who sells oranges at the farmer’s market.  It was not until the negotiations course I took at Wharton, that I started thinking about it as a science as well.  Nowadays I assist some of my consulting clients with their negotiations, and occasionally teach a class on the subject.

Negotiation is hard.  Negotiation with opponents from different cultures is very hard.  Based on my own experience and all the anecdotes I gathered over the years, negotiation with the Chinese is very, very hard.

Robert Cain of Pacific Bridge Pictures is a producer and entertainment industry consultant who has been doing business in China since 1987.  I enjoyed his post How to Deal With Classic Chinese Negotiating Tactics. Cain first summarizes key learnings he drew from an article by attorney Steve Dickinson, then adds his own experience on the subject.

“When faced with the difficulties of language and cultural barriers, we sometimes forget ourselves and allow for tactics and behavior that we would never tolerate in our home territory. Bearing these simple rules in mind can help to reduce the frustration of a prolonged, seemingly unfair negotiation.”

Another great article on negotiating with the Chinese from Harvard Business Review is  The Chinese Negotiation by John Graham and Mark Lam.  Graham and Lam talk about the four threads of Chinese culture that show through in negotiations and how the influence of these threads is present in the eight main Chinese negotiation elements.  The stark contrast between American and Chinese negotiation philosophies and tactics is explained wonderfully with many examples from real life.

“The challenge of mutual understanding is great; American and Chinese approaches often appear incompatible. All too often, Americans see Chinese negotiators as inefficient, indirect, and even dishonest, while the Chinese see American negotiators as aggressive, impersonal, and excitable. Such differences have deep cultural origins. Yet those who know how to navigate these differences can develop thriving, mutually profitable, and satisfying business relationships.”

After reading both articles, I can see once again that Turkey is truly where the East meets the West.  Negotiation in Turkey, just like the rest of the culture, is a mixture of Eastern (Chinese) and Western (American) elements.  An excerpt from the book “Negotiating International Business – The Negotiator’s Reference Guide to 50 Countries Around the World” by Lothar Katz does a pretty good job of explaining how. It is mostly accurate and very entertaining to read. My favorite part?

“Most Turks enjoy bargaining and haggling. They expect to do a lot of it during a negotiation and may be seriously offended if you refuse to play along. The bargaining exchange of negotiation can be very extensive.”

Ah, haggling.  One of our favorite pastimes indeed!

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