How Culture Influences Negotiation

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What is the influence of culture on the negotiation process?

The effect of culture on negotiation can be categorized into intercultural and cross-cultural and can be compared along cultural characteristics. Intracultural negotiation refers to negotiations within one’s own culture. Cross-cultural negotiation concerns negotiation between individuals from different cultures. Examples of cultural characteristics include collectivist versus individualistic cultures. Research has found, however, that negotiators in collectivist cultures are more likely to reach integrative outcomes than negotiators in individualist cultures. (Lituchy, 1997; Arunachalam, Wall, and Chan, 1998).  Research suggests that culture does have an effect on negotiation outcomes, although it may not be direct, and it likely has an influence through differences in the negotiation process in different cultures. For example, Brett, Adair, Lempereur, Okumura, Shihkirev, Tinsley, and Lytle (1998) compared intracultural negotiators in six different cultures (France, Russia, Japan, Hong Kong, Brazil, United States) and found differences in joint gains achieved. Cross-cultural negotiations will result in poorer outcomes compared to intracultural negotiations, at least some of the time.

The following aspects of differing cultures affect the negotiation process:

  • Definition of Negotiation – The fundamental definition of negotiation, what is negotiable, and what occurs when we negotiate can differ greatly across cultures (see Ohanyan, 1999; Yook and Albert, 1998).
  • Negotiation opportunity – Cross-cultural negotiations will be influenced by the extent that negotiators in different cultures have fundamental agreement or disagreement about whether or not the situation is distributive or integrative.
  • Selection of negotiators – Different cultures weigh the criteria to select negotiators differently, leading to varying expectations about what is appropriate in different types of negotiations.
  • Protocol – Cultures differ in the degree to which protocol, or the formality of the relations between the two negotiating parties, is important.
  • Communication – Cultures influence how people communicate, both verbally and nonverbally, directly and indirectly, and through the body language used. Direct communication is targeted directly at the other party, such as words spoken or written communications. Indirect communication uses third parties, situational signals, or other indirect means of communication. The implications of a method of communication for negotiation regards the ability to transmit information necessary to reach integrative agreements and any dispute resolution preferences. Graham and his colleagues found significant differences in the negotiation strategies and tactics in the cultures they studied (also see Graham, Evenko, and Rajan, 1992). Cai (1998) demonstrated how individualism/collectivism influenced negotiation planning toward long-term and short-term goals. Adair (2003) found that culture led to different communication patterns in intracultural negotiations, with negotiators from low-context cultures tending to use direct communication while negotiators from high-context cultures used more indirect communication. The Rosette, Brett, Barsness, and Lytle (2004) study suggests that culture has an effect on the process of e-mail negotiations, which in turn appears to influence negotiation outcomes.
  • Time Sensitivity – Other cultures have quite different views about time. The opportunity for misunderstandings because of different perceptions of time is great during cross-cultural negotiations.
  • Risk propensity – Negotiators in risk-oriented cultures will be more willing to move early on a deal and will generally take more chances. Those in risk-avoiding cultures are more likely to seek further information and take a wait-and-see stance.
  • Groups versus individuals – The United States is very much an individual-oriented culture, where being independent and assertive is valued and praised. Group-oriented cultures, in contrast, favor the superiority of the group and see individual needs as second to the group’s needs.
  • Nature of agreements – Cultural differences in how to close an agreement and what exactly that agreement means can lead to confusion and misunderstandings.
  • Emotionalism – Culture appears to influence the extent to which negotiators display emotions (Salacuse, 1998). These emotions may be used as tactics, or they may be a natural response to positive and negative circumstances during the negotiation (see Kumar, 2004).
  • Cognition – What are the effects of culture on negotiator cognition.Researchers are working to understand how culture influences the way that negotiators process information during negotiation and how this in turn influences negotiation processes and outcomes. Gelfand and Realo (1999) found that accountability to a constituent influenced negotiators from individualistic and collectivistic cultures differently. Gelfand, Nishii, Holcombe, Dyer, Ohbuchi, and Fukuno (2001) suggest that there are some universal ways of framing conflict (e.g., compromise-win) but there are also significant culturally specific ways. Another way to explore the influence of culture on negotiator cognition is to examine the extent to which well-known cognitive effects identified in Western cultures occur in other cultures. Gelfand and Christakopoulou (1999) found that negotiators from an individualistic culture (the United States) were more susceptible to fixed-pie errors than were negotiators from a more collectivist culture.
  • Ethics and Tactics – Effects of culture on negotiator ethics and tactics. Researchers have recently turned their attention to examining ethics and negotiation tactics in cross-cultural negotiations by exploring the broad question of whether negotiators in different cultures have the same ethical evaluation of negotiation tactics.

Key constraints or challenges in negotiation attributable to culture include:

  • Expanding and dividing the pie – The objective of an integrative negotiation is to expand the pie by creating greater total value in the negotiation. Culture influences can interrupt this objective through any number of methods. Dividing the pie concert apportioning value to individual negotiations. Procedural and cognitive aspects of differing cultures can thwart this necessary aspect of a successful negotiation.
  • Sacred values– Issues that are deemed by the decision maker as ones that cannot be compromised, traded off, or even questioned. Trade-offs – Exchanges that are made between parties; in negotiation, one party gives up something less valuable to him or herself in return for something more valuable, and vice versa.
  • Biased punctuation of conflict – The tendency for people to interpret interactions with their adversaries as offensive and their own behavior as defensive.
  • Ethnocentrism – The universal strong liking of one’s own group and the simultaneous negative evaluation of out-groups.
  • Affiliation bias – Bias that occurs when people evaluate a person’s actions on the basis of their group connections, rather than on the merits of the behavior itself.
  • Faulty perceptions of conciliation and coercion
  • Naïverealism The human tendency to believe that we see the world around us objectively, and that people who disagree with us must be uninformed, irrational, or biased.
  • Western Canon debate – Argument that the body of scholarship is biased because the traditional main focus of academic studies of Western Culture and history has only been on works produced by European men.
  • Fundamental attribution error – Error that occurs when people attribute the behavior of others to underlying dispositions or character and discount the role of situational factors.

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