Powerful Cross-Cultural Skills For Successful International Negotiations


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When marketing internationally, you can never forget to take into account how cultural backgrounds will impact your negotiations and operations overall. This is why it’s critically important for global-minded companies to properly train their key negotiators. The best negotiation training will always include an element of developing negotiation skills that work cross-culturally.

Complete Cross-Cultural Sensitivity Exercises

Workshops can help prepare employees for the challenges that negotiating cross-culturally brings. Fortunately, many companies can find cultural diversity within the firm’s own walls. Firms can organize training exercises using employees from different backgrounds to illustrate how culture can influence negotiation tactics, even for people who are playing for the same team, so to speak.

Remember Whose Turf You’re On

If you’re traveling to another country with a culture different to yours, take extra efforts to show your respect for their customs and traditions. For example, business travelers to Asia will encounter very different customs when it comes to greeting and dining. International business people are well advised to research or take a training in these customs beforehand to avoid causing offense or embarrassment. If there is any question about how any exchanges should be handled, you can often contact an embassy or consulate to ask about local etiquette. Details like these will set the stage for a great negotiation.

Fully Asses the Dimensions

One of the most important frameworks that skilled international negotiators can learn is the Hostede Cultural Dimensions. This framework is taught to business stakeholders in a few negotiation seminars around the world. The framework has 6 different bipolar scales and indices that measure a culture’s:

  • Power distance
  • Individuality versus collectivism
  • Masculinity versus femininity
  • Uncertainty avoidance
  • Long-term orientation versus short-term normative orientation
  • Indulgence versus restraint

Depending on where their culture falls on each scale and negotiation training received, a business’s response to various negotiation tactics can vary dramatically.

For example, in China, the Power Distance rating is very high. This means that, with respect to their society, Chinese culture maintains high levels of respect for authority as well as institutionalized hierarchies. China also scores low on the Individualism scale, meaning members of their society think of the group or community before making decisions, not just themselves. Sweden, on the other hand, has much lower levels of Power Distance, meaning their culture does not adhere to hierarchies and displays high levels of Individualism. If companies from Sweden and China enter into a negotiation, it is imperative to take into account these cultural differences.

This handy tool helps you analyze the dimensions of each country (so a substitute for culture) by illustrating where the country falls on these scales. Just remember, when using this tool, the scores are meant to represent the society as a whole and cannot be extrapolated to every individual within that society.

Understand Everyone’s Purpose

Sometimes negotiators can walk into a business meeting with radically different goals for the interaction. This is impacted heavily by culture. For some cultures, building a long-term relationship of mutual trust and understanding is critical to doing business with another firm. For these cultures, signing a contract or closing a sale may not mean as much to the firm as other indicators of a business relationship (e.g. China). In other cultures, the security and formality of having a firm deal signed is the only indicator of progress in a relationship, no matter how many good faith promises were made (e.g. USA). If your firm is entering into a negotiation with a company from a culture who scores closer to long-term orientation and collectivism, ensure that you demonstrate how you will be a good partner in the long run. If you’re entering a negotiation with high uncertainty avoidance and short-term orientation, train your team to demonstrate tangible benefits that their company will receive right off the bat.

Keep An Eye On In-Market Communications Trends

Since marketing relies so heavily on driving emotional connections in audiences, it can be quite difficult for an international firm to enter a new foreign market and build their brand. Brand messages that resonate in one culture do not always make sense or drive an emotional connection in another culture. Not only are some phrases and words difficult to translate, symbols and colors can be interpreted in radically different manners. In some cultures, a color red can indicate strength, bravery, and boldness, while in others, it could imply femininity, delicateness, or luck. Take cues from other popular brands in the local market you are trying to enter. Do the messages trend towards making bold, powerful statements? Or are the messages more fun and humorous? It always helps to have a native speaker of the local language analyze your message for subtle nuances in the language, even if you are fluent in that language.

Don’t Treat New Markets As Pedestrian

You probably invested a lot of time building your company’s reputation in your local market. Why should you assume that you can just enter a new market with the same clout you’ve developed overseas, and overtake the local businesses? Negotiations will take more time and care as you need to earn trust from businesses within the local market, and prove why your proposition is better than a local business’ offering. Take your time to build your company’s reach just as you did in your home market, and you will see long-term results for the success of your company. Taking shortcuts and insisting on the same cookie-cutter plan for all markets is never a sound option.


Cross-cultural negotiation is challenging. It takes time, practice, and training. The best companies in the world have taken the time to engage with other cultures to find out the right way to communicate with their market. If you want your company to succeed on the international stage, always keep in mind that impact that cultural differences will have on your core competencies, marketing efforts, and negotiations.

Calum Coburn
Negotiation trainers The Negotiation Experts’ provides posts, Q&A’s, negotiation case studies, cartoons, deal analysis, and definitions on their website. The Negotiation Experts wish to support researchers, trainers, business people, and writers to better prepare, deepen their skills and tools to improve negotiated results.”


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