Whether you’re negotiating a matter here in the U.S. or representing a party in negotiations that involve a matter overseas, in addition to the complexities that come in any negotiation you’re also dealing with potential language barriers and cultural differences. There are multiple challenges you need to cope with in order to succeed.

If you are working across cultures and genders be aware of any sensitivities. Some Muslims may not shake hands with the opposite sex. In some cultures if a male is accompanied by a woman, they may assume that she is not of any consequence while she may be the person making the decisions.

Cultural Differences Also Need to be Negotiated

If at least one of the parties doesn’t speak English (and you don’t speak their language) you will need an interpreter. You need to find someone who not only is fluent in the language but experienced in translation. If the negotiations cover something technical you may want to talk about that ahead of time so the translator can get a grasp of the subject.

How you carry yourself and your body language also sends a message. Make sure the message sent is the one you want to send. In the U.S., U.K. and much of Europe eye contact is a sign of strength and confidence. In South America it’s a sign of trustworthiness. In Japan prolonged eye contact may be considered impolite.

Physical contact in negotiations is generally avoided in the Western world and Asia. It’s seen as something personal and not for the business table. In the Middle East or South America some physical contact is part of the process of building relationships and trust.

Where you sit can be an issue. In places like Canada, Sweden or Britain there are no formal rules about who sits where. In places like Japan, China, Korea or India where you sit defines who you are and your role. Simply sitting in the wrong place can get negotiations off to a bad start, showing your cultural ignorance, leading to embarrassment for both parties.

Being punctual in the U.S. or Germany is seen as a sign of respect for the other party’s time. In the Middle East, Spain or Africa time may be less important and being late is just how business is done. Being negative about the other party’s tardiness may be seen as being uptight, unprofessional, unkind or rude.

Here are some suggestions for your inter-cultural negotiations,

  • Learn what you can about the other culture before they begin:
  • Don’t jump to conclusions. Something that may be said or done that may seem odd may be due to cultural differences.
  • If you feel confused, or the other party seems to be confused, clarify and make sure both sides are on the same page.
  • Speak a little slower and keep it as simple as possible.
  • Be an active listener and ask questions.
  • Talk about how decisions are made on your side and ask about the decision making process for their side. Cultural differences can also mean differences in how decisions are made.
  • Stay professional. The other side may try to test your patience to see it you’re trustworthy. A loss of temper may be seen as a sign of disrespect and the negotiations will cease.

So remember, cultural differences also need to be negotiated.  California is the home of people from across the globe, along with their languages and customs. The state’s businesses also export its goods and services around the world. Being able to negotiate across cultural barriers is a valuable skill for you and your client.