In a competitive market, it is no longer a luxury or fad for corporations to become a part of international community. More than ever before, organizations are expanding their operations and marketing activities beyond national boundaries. Contract manufacturing, reaching out to more suitable investors, and realizing economies of scale are a few driving forces for such endeavors.

Despite all of the potential advantages of internationalization, it poses thorny challenges to successful negotiations. Interacting with those of different customs, cultures and business protocols can lead to negotiation breakdowns.

Any business entering the global market should be mindful of such challenges to avoid misunderstandings in verbal and non-verbal communications.

Task Oriented vs. Relationship Oriented

Customarily, business negotiators from countries such as Sweden, Germany, the United States, and Switzerland are more task oriented. When interacting with others for business purposes, they perceive time as a limited non-renewable resource which should not be wasted on secondary and unrelated matters. After all, time equates money.  For this reason, they participate in business meetings with the mindset of “let’s get down to business.” The misunderstanding is minimized when the other party in the meeting has prescribed to the similar view of time for doing business.

Conversely, in Mexico, the southern part of Italy and in most Middle Eastern countries, to name a few, there is another view of time. They see time as a passage of life which should be utilized with patience in building relationships and trust with their business counterparts. And, they gradually move on to the business dialogues.

One party may perceive the other as not being committed to making a deal and trying to find a way out. While, the other party, focused on establishing a sound rapport, sees the counterpart as only being interested in profit making.

The divergent view of time during business meetings is a major cause of communication breakdown, but the complexity of communication goes further than that.

Non-Verbal communication

Aside from verbal communication, negotiators need to be cognizant of non-verbal cues as well. Proximics, punctuality, and handshakes are a few types of non-verbal cues which may vary from one culture to another.

  • Proxemics. Proxemics is the study of physical distance among individuals. As a part of creating a suitable condition for business dialogues, for most Americans, it is customary to remain about one full stretched arm length away from each other. It is believed that everyone has a comfort zone which one should not enter in. While, in most of the South American and the Middle Eastern countries, it is customary to keep a closer distance in professional settings.
  • Punctuality. For a meeting in Switzerland and Germany it is crucial to be right on time. Otherwise, it may be perceived as being uninterested to the business dialogue. In most cultures such as in the United States, businesspeople commonly allow a fifteen-minute delay to arrive at a meeting. In Brazil or Greece, often such delay can be extended to two hours without offending anyone. In fact, on-time arrival maybe perceived as overly enthusiastic.
  • Handshakes. The firmness and the duration of handshakes vary considerably among cultures. Broadly speaking, handshakes among Americans are firm with a relatively longer duration, but they are less frequent. In France, handshakes are also firm, but more frequent and of a shorter duration. In the Middle East, handshakes are most frequent and with a softer grip. A softer handshake in this region does not always imply a lack of interest.

Main barrier cross-cultural communication

One of the major hurdles in interacting with people from different cultures is ethnocentrism. It is the notion of cultural superiority when compared with other cultures. A research survey conducted by Dr. James Lee of Harvard University reveals that we fail to develop desirable relationships with others as long as we set our own culture as a benchmark for others to adapt and measure to. He coined this phenomenon as the “Self Reference Criterion,” commonly known as SRC.

For questions or comments, please

Contact Bagher Fardanesh, Ph.D. MPA

Prof. International Business and Marketing

Copyright © 2018 Bagher Fardanesh