Beyond Stereotypes – Building Cross-Cultural Relationships

Don’t assume everyone in the same culture has the same norms. Getting beyond cultural stereotypes, and seeing the individual, is key to good cross-cultural negotiation preparation.

Stereotypes

In our previous article, we kicked off our recap of, and insight into, the intricacies of cross-cultural negotiations.

In the second part of the series, our negotiation experts discuss cultural dimensions literature, the importance of moving beyond stereotypes, and why time should always be on your mind.

Hofstede’s Cultural Dimensions

The participants were asked to reflect on the landmark research on cross-cultural negotiations of Geert Hofstede. Hofstede identified six key cultural dimensions, which would vary from culture to culture, that all need to be considered as part of negotiation preparation.

These are:

  • Individualist vs. collectivistic
  • Power distance (i.e. egalitarian or hierarchical)
  • Masculinity or femininity (focus on task vs. relationship)
  • Uncertainty avoidance (related to taking risk)
  • Long term vs short term orientation
  • Indulgence vs. severity (the attitude toward enjoying life and having fun).

Each culture will approach these dimensions differently, taking a spot on a sliding scale between the two extremes. Knowing where cultures sit can be a huge assistance when going into cross-cultural negotiations.

Understanding Cultural Differences

Three of the Roundtable participants discussed their experiences in negotiations when taking these dimensions into consideration. Bérénice Bessiere, Director, Procurement and Travel Division at World Intellectual Property Organization, discussed the different approaches to gender between European and Chinese companies.

Bérénice visited China to lead a negotiation. Although she was the senior buyer, she was assumed to be junior to her younger, male colleague. During the trip, it became clear that the supplier treated its female employees in a way that wouldn’t be acceptable in Europe.

The supplier didn’t win the business in the end (although for reasons other than this). Bérénice admitted she had wondered how the relationship would have worked if they had.

Another example was offered by Xin-jian Carlier Fu, Strategic Sourcing Commodity Manager at Honeywell. She highlighted the cultural differences between Chinese and Americans in business negotiations.

While many Chinese organisations operated with a very traditional, reserved culture, the Americans projected a very over-confident, talkative image in negotiations. Such was the difference to how business was conducted in China that it actually worked as a negative in negotiations between the two groups.

Finally, Carina Kaldalian, External Supply Governance Specialist at Merck, shared her experience based on her own cultural differences. In her home country of Lebanon, being an hour late to a social event is entirely acceptable.

So when Carina arrived for her first social meeting in Switzerland 10 minutes late, she thought she was doing ok. However, it was seen as unacceptable by the people she was meeting with.

This helped her make changes to her own behaviour, while giving her a better understanding of punctuality in different cultures.

Going Beyond Stereotypes

Giuseppe Conti made the point that cultural averages and stereotypes don’t necessarily apply to all individuals. Individual culture is instead influenced by a number of factors including work experience, upbringing, family values, and education, amongst other things.

When negotiating in a cross-cultural situation, it’s important to get past stereotypes, and uncover specific traits of the individuals you are dealing with.

The participants had a number of ways that this could be done. Thierry Blomet, Senior Vice President at Kemira, suggested an informal discussion over dinner the day before the negotiation. This would allow people to avoid entering negotiations without having ever met the other party before.

Other participants highlighted the importance of building relationships, and getting to know the other party better. This was especially important when dealing with Asian counterparts.

Other good strategies were identified as building information through local agents, creating an emotional connection, and building trust in the early stages. With high value placed against trust by many cultures, it’s key to get it right. Participants even highlighted instances where contracts had been signed on the basis of trust alone.

All Down to Timing
Laurence Perot
Laurence Perot

Time was also a factor mentioned by the Roundtable. Laurence Pérot, Director of Global & Strategic Sourcing at Logitech, recommended planning for time, as it’s likely to be treated differently in different cultures.

Laurence recommended planning for more time than you think you will need. This will help ensure you have good conversations, and get what you need. It will also help to show the other party that you’re not just rushing to close the deal.

However, there were also warnings that suppliers might try to use time to their advantage. Ali Atasoy, CMO Operations Manager (Intercontinental) at Merck, stated that the other party may be deliberately slowing the negotiation down, as efficiency may not be at the top of their agenda. He advised patience in this situation, helped by knowing that there were no major time limitations for your negotiations.

Finally, the reputation of an organisation was also highlighted. Matthias Manegold, Head of Procurement and Supply Chain Practice at Kinetic Consulting, advised that procurement professionals need to be consistent in their negotiations, and make sure the other party feels good about the outcomes.

Outcomes will drive what people say about you, and negative comments could harm your reputation with the wider supply base.

In the final article in this series, we’ll look at discussions on how individuals can adapt their behaviours based on information that is gathered, as well as the experts’ advice on how to negotiate with people of their own nationality.

This roundtable was organised by Conti Advanced Business Learning (www.cabl.ch), a Swiss training company that specialises in Negotiation & Influencing training. Giuseppe Conti, has over 20 years of Procurement experience and 10 years of negotiation teaching experience at leading Business Schools (including Oxford, HEC Paris, IMD and ESADE).