The hard deal: negotiating across cultures

What’s the hard part of the deal? Negotiating to reach closure.

Even after many years in international business, everyone of us is tempted to just follow our national instinct. The behaviors we consider neutral are actually soaked in our own country’s teachings and ways of doing.

Imagine of looking at this building:


You don’t find anything unusual in it, do you? This picture could have been taken anywhere in one of our cities. Now imagine how this person would look at it:


I know this example is taken to extremes, but it helps me prove one fundamental fact. When presenting to potential clients, when negotiating, also when closing and after that, please never forget one point:

always put yourself in the other person’s shoes.

One practice I have found useful during these months was looking at the way foreign people negotiate, by being present when I was not included in the discussion. Not obliged to take an active role, I could put myself into an observation position, like in birdwatching, and monitor each movement, each word coming from everyone involved.

When you are in the observing position, all peculiarities pop out and you can really analyze them one by one with a cool head. For example, when negotiating for price, each world region has its own way to communicate the wish for a lower cost estimate. According to what I have seen so far:

  • In the Mediterranean area, the majority will have no problem in saying that they have a smaller budget. There’s no shame. It’s very likely it is not even true, that’s why they don’t mind sharing this information. However, with bigger players, the reaction will be “I can find someone better than you in no time. So, let’s help each other here”.
  • In central Europe, when the budget required is too high, they will just drop the discussion. Then, your hard job will be finding a way to re-open a chat again.
  • In Italy, people will never tell you they don’t have the money. It’s a matter of pride. What they will do is finding flaws in your product, so that you indirectly should understand that they expect to pay less than you first anticipated. The upside is that, if you find a way to counteract every “but” they throw at you, your potential clients will eventually pay as much as you told them.

When some months ago I read this article, Communication patterns around the world, life lighted up: it is the Truth. I recommend anyone involved in international communication to read, study, print and learn by heart the scheme in the link. It will probably be your best friend in challenging moments. The following is a quick preview of the precious tips you will find in the article:

negotiating screenshot

So, what’s my point here? If you know in advance how the other party is expecting the communication to go, you can already adopt that perspective and smoothly direct the potential client to the closing, having trust and comfort as the leading feelings of the whole process. 

What is your experience with negotiating with foreigners? I am tired to be the only voice speaking, and eager to hear from you as well!


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