Negotiating with International Business Partners

Negotiating with International Business Partners

Negotiating with International Business Partners

The path of business takes entrepreneurs far beyond their own national borders and brings people from different cultures to the negotiating table.

One could assume that the language of business is universal because all those involved have the same goal, to develop and grow their own business – which only works via cooperation.

That is probably true. And yet linguistic and cultural differences can have such a serious impact that many negotiations fail because of them – good business is lost as a result and so are promising relationships.

As a lawyer and negotiation expert I have experienced many situations in which even experienced managers, salespeople and experts have neglected cultural aspects in negotiations – and have failed to achieve their goal.

That is why I would like to give you these 6 basic rules of negotiating in an intercultural context. The earlier you pay attention to them in the negotiation process, the more you will win in the end.

6 basic rules for successful negotiation in an intercultural context

1. Bias and generalizations about the origins of the participants may be misleading

We all know the clichés. One nation prefers to enjoy wine with cheese, another prefers to quench its thirst with beer and for the third nation “5 o’clock tea” is a fixed part of the daily ritual. How simple! And how inaccurate. (Yes, sometimes even insulting because regional differences are disregarded).

Instead of assuming preconceived ideas and being incorrect, take the safe route. Keep your head free from patterns of thought in the negotiation process. Be open and mindful. This will help you to respond to each stakeholder, to understand their interests and stay constructive.

Basic rule 1: Keep the negotiating table bias-free.

I know that it is not easy, but it is a crucial first step to success in international negotiations.

2. Misunderstandings are not only due to languages but also to cultural differences

Not even a common language protects against misunderstandings. Why not? Because we sometimes have different perspectives on the same concepts. This is all the more true when people from different cultures talk to one another.

For example, the word “interest” may have a different meaning for you than for your counterpart. Define exactly in which situations, how much, from when, until when, and how interest must be calculated and paid.

Basic rule 2: Define relevant terms sooner rather than later.

3. Time is relative

Not only Einstein found this out but also many a buyer who waited and waited for the goods that he ordered. Until he learnt that “promptly” means 2 weeks for the foreign suppliers and not 3 days, as is customary in the home region.

Basic rule 3: Clarify the time frame and the terms of cooperation in advance.

4. Several languages at the negotiation table – misinterpretations are inevitable

No specific form is prescribed by law for many contracts. This means that rights and obligations can arise for parties in the doing. Inaccuracies and misinterpretations invariably occur and cause damage and losses.

My recommendation is to have your agreements/protocols drawn up in writing in a reference language, i.e., a language that has been accepted by all parties as the language of communication. This can be a neutral language or the language of one of the negotiating parties.

Basic rule 4: Several languages at the negotiating table – one language on paper.

5. Body language sometimes says more than a thousand words – especially in intercultural negotiations

Culturally, the same gesture has different meanings. For example, direct eye contact is a sign of honesty and trust in Europe, while it is viewed with skepticism in Asia and the Arab world. A firm handshake or a firm hug may signal friendly closeness in a certain environment or may seem threatening in another environment.

Basic rule 5: Do your homework before any negotiation. Find out about the unwritten rules of communication and of behavior before entering the negotiation room.

6. “It is already the third round of negotiations, and we understand each other well despite different cultures. However, we are not progressing as we would like to.”

… a client recently complained to me in negotiation coaching. There are several possible reasons why results are slow in coming:

In some cultures, some subjects are not addressed right away. Or these topics are simply phrased differently in conversation than one is used to hearing and understanding.

Basic rule 6: In an intercultural context the language of negotiation is a language in itself. Only those who learn it correctly will emerge from the negotiation as winners.

Would you like to learn to negotiate in an international context?

I would be happy to teach you the language of negotiation – in a 6-hour crash course, customized to meet your requirements.

You can reach me at: or +436602400135.

Your Raluca Ionescu

Leave a Reply

Your e-mail address will not be published. Required fields are marked *