When I state the term “cultural barriers” what does that mean to you? The Harvard Law School Program on Negotiation would like to provide you with a free 19 page document on Overcoming Cultural Barriers in Negotiations. I will summarize commentary from that 19 page document a little later in this commentary, but before proceeding further I would like to offer some commentary on diversity for your consideration. I have been involved in numerous mediations and negotiations with diverse cultures. When I am involved with a mediation with different cultures, I generally do this with a mediator of the opposite sex and of a cultural background different from myself. When interpreters are used, having very good, high quality interpreters very familiar with both cultures is critical.
Here is some information that I think you will find helpful from one of my tips from my book The Servant Manager, 203 tips from the best places to work in America on diversity.
“Diversity is defined as “fact or quality of being different.” Diverse is defined as “unlike in kind; distinct.”
Considering your group we all have “visible or surface human qualities” and dimensions as well as “below the surface human qualities” and dimensions. You need to explore these relative to your group.
Examples of ”visible or surface human qualities” are:
- Physical abilities
- Sexual orientation
Examples “below the surface human qualities” are:
- Religious belief
- Geographic location
- Marital status
- Parental status
- Work background
- Military experience
According to Loden and Rosener[i] these two elements are our primary and secondary dimensions. They also define a tertiary dimension. What does that mean?
Loden and Rosener refer to the primary dimension of diversity as an inner circle. These are the “visible or surface human qualities.” These are fundamental to a person’s self-concept or core self. These dimensions, though not necessarily visible, are unchangeable in that they are not a matter of choice. They form the basis of which people make instantaneous judgments about one another, often through the process of stereotyping.
There is an outer circle consisting of secondary dimensions of diversity. These are the “below the surface human qualities.” These are aspects of a person’s identity that are important to a definition of self, but are not as fundamental as the primary dimensions.
It would be possible to add a third circle that consists of tertiary dimensions of diversity, such as:
- Learning style
- Professional orientation
All three categories (primary, secondary and tertiary) contribute to the formation of a person’s unique life experiences, perspectives and skill sets. An effective organization can learn to recognize, understand, appreciate, respect, and use these multiple aspects of a person in the pursuit of its mission and objectives.
With this commentary on diversity consider your own diversity, your team’s and those of the other party. With that as an introduction, let’s take a look at Overcoming Cultural Barriers in Negotiations.
In this article the authors suggest looking beyond the stereotypes. I could not agree more.
To help bring this home the concept on stereotypes I want to offer this commentary that brought tears to my eyes relative to stereotypes. I thought it was powerful enough that I added it as Appendix B in, The Servant Manager regarding how we might to address our own concerns about stereotypes.
After you have read this commentary I want to share with you these thoughts. “A white, married, Republican from what he calls an “ultra-conservative” rural district, Dan Ponder, age 45 rose to speak moments after the Georgia House vote 83-82 to SHELVE a proposal to make crimes carry tougher penalties when they are motivated by hatred.” Then Representative Ponder gave the speech you just read. Republicans and Democrats alike gave Ponder two standing ovations, and then outlawed all hate crimes by a vote of 116-49. Georgia Governor Roy Barnes signed the new law at a synagogue scarred by swastika-painting vandals.
Now let’s return to the article from the Program on Negotiation. After initially sharing commentary on how the Germans from Daimler interacted with the Americans of Chrysler when these to automakers combined the article states,
“Cultural differences were not the main reason the Daimler-Chrysler merger proved disastrous. Differing goals and reputations, decisions Chrysler made that predated the merger, and cost savings that failed to materialize played a larger role.
But the culture clash unquestionably got the partnership off to a rocky start. Different norms and styles made the transition difficult. As each side adjusted to the other’s practices, high-level employees were often distracted from their goal of building a strong, unified brand.”
Watch out for stereotypes. The article suggests fostering cultural intelligence.
Looking at the interests of the party’s long term in a joint manner really matters in instances like this. The article elaborates on two other auto makers looking at the Japanese Nissan and French Renault partnership and corresponding relationship by comparison.
They point out the need to
“Expect to be surprised’
“Prepare to adapt”
The authors of the article also warn to be aware of and understand the “endowment effect”. That is “it is great because it is mine”. As you know homeowners often see the value of their home and I know as a business valuer, owners of businesses often see their businesses as being worth a lot more than the businesses really are.
The article explores “bridging the cultural divide”. Areas to consider include:
“Communication problems” (It pays to have a member of your team that really understands the other culture and can relate nuances to your team.)
“Understanding differences in cultural behavior”
“Cultural considerations (that) influence the form and substance of the deal”
Understand “how culture can influence the way people behave and interact at the bargaining table”
So what does the article propose that you do?
“1. Do your homework about your supplier’s culture.”
“2. Show respect for cultural differences. Inexperienced negotiators tend to belittle unfamiliar cultural practices.”
“3. Be aware of how others may perceive your culture.”
“4. Find ways to bridge the culture gap.”
An example is presented for consideration looking at Russia’s invasion of Crimea. Given this introduction the impacts of various cultural components are presented:
“Dignity cultures: independence and trust”
“Face cultures: cooperation and harmony”
“Honor cultures: close ties and strong emotions”
with a caution to “look beyond the prototypes” considering the stereotype issues commented on previously.
Finally, the last section addresses “before apologizing consider the culture”.
I suggest you download the article, read it and save it for future reference. It is that good.
[i] Loden and Rosener, Workforce America! Managing Employee Diversity as a Vital Resource. Burr Ridge, IL, 1991
About the author
Mike Gregory is a professional speaker, an author, and a mediator. You may contact Mike directly at email@example.com and at (651) 633-5311. Mike has written 12 books (and co-authored two others) including his latest book, The Collaboration Effect: Overcoming Your Conflicts, and The Servant Manager, Business Valuations and the IRS, and Peaceful Resolutions that you may find helpful. [Michael Gregory, ASA, CVA, NSA, MBA, Qualified Mediator with the Minnesota Supreme Court]