11 Strategies in Culturally Responsive Negotiations

Any negotiation requires understanding of the cultural context of all of the participants. This is especially true for cross-cultural negotiations, in which participants come from varying backgrounds with different traditions, etiquettes and communication styles. Here are 11 strategies to use when negotiating with people of diverse cultural backgrounds.


Knowing the players

It is vital to know the players involved in any negotiation process, especially cross-cultural ones. People from diverse cultural backgrounds may have unexpected reactions to a proposition’s form or content, depending on their culture’s taboos, stigmas and deeply held beliefs. It would be obvious, for instance, to anybody familiar with Islam that one should not hold a negotiation with people of Muslim descent over a dinner of pork chops.


Understanding the decision-making process

A deep understanding of the role of each person involved in a negotiation is essential, as the process of business negotiations can be very different across cultures. The process of business acquisition, for example, is different in other countries: Certain stakeholders might have more control over the negotiation process than their equivalents might have in an American business, for example.


Verbal communication

An understanding of cultural context in itself does not guarantee successful communication. For cultures that are predominantly verbal, where most meaning is expressed explicitly with speech and less context is given through nonverbal means, negotiators must communicate using highly specific and clear information.


Nonverbal communication

Certain cultures express meaning nonverbally, whether through body language or through the modulation or tone of the speech itself. These cultures are sometimes called high-context cultures, because the nuances of the way speech is delivered (i.e., the speech’s context) determine the message’s meaning. Negotiations with people from high-context cultural backgrounds require a deep understanding of the culture and the way that nonverbal nuances determine meaning.


Space orientation

Space orientation is the way that people subconsciously use the space around them to communicate. Some cultures strictly regulate personal space, whereas some do not mind being very close to one another. Space orientation can even refer to a culture’s comfort with eye contact or lack thereof. For negotiations, the arrangement of the participants’ seats should be curated with their culture’s space orientation in mind.


Individualism and collectivism

Some cultures are more individualist, and some more collectivist. An individualist culture is one in which people act as individuals and prioritize their own goals over the goals of the collective. A collectivist culture, by contrast, prioritizes collective goals over individual ones, and its people are characterized by membership to cohesive groups. For negotiators, keeping in mind the degree of individualism or collectivism of the negotiation participants’ culture is necessary, because it significantly impacts the priorities of the members of that culture, to which negotiators must adapt their approach.


Masculinity and femininity roles

Some experts use the terms masculinity and femininity to connote the extent that different cultures value traditionally masculine traits, such as assertiveness, or feminine ones, such as nurturing and communal support. In assertive, masculine cultures, gender roles tend to be more rigid and members emphasize work for deriving value, whereas cultures regarded as more feminine, such as Scandinavia and Thailand, emphasize nurturing and social support systems. Negotiators should be aware of how gender roles prevail and adjust their negotiation style accordingly.


Uncertainty avoidance

Many cultures avoid uncertainty and risk, and are very uncomfortable with ambiguity. This affects how well members of these cultures adapt to changes and transitions, and in cultures characterized by high uncertainty avoidance, familial relations are emphasized to provide stability. Outside negotiators must work hard to establish trust and understanding with members of these cultures.


Traditions and etiquette

Some cultures place high value on tradition and etiquette for navigating social situations. Negotiators working with members of these cultures must understand these traditions and systems of comportment in order to establish trust with the negotiation’s participants.


Signs of respect

In cultures that value tradition and etiquette, there are often specific behaviors that communicate respect. There are also respect systems that assign one kind of person—for example, the elderly—more respect than others. Knowing these systems, and the types of signs that communicate respect, is essential for establishing trusting relationships to successfully conduct a negotiation.


Informal influences

In different cultures, there are varying networks of influence that are more complex than the models of American business. Negotiators must determine the extent and power of these influences, and adjust their negotiating strategy accordingly.


Master global negotiations through project management education

Negotiation is a tricky business. For professionals looking to get into business in a global marketplace of growing complexity, the matter gets even more complicated when factoring in differing communication styles across cultures. Pursuing graduate study in project management is a great option for students who want to learn the ins and outs of business negotiation, along with the business, technology, and leaderships skills necessary to be effective project managers.


Learn More

Founded in 1948, Brandeis University is an internationally recognized research institution with the intimacy and personal attention of a small liberal arts college. Brandeis University is pleased to offer its M.S. in Project and Program Management (MSPPM) in a convenient online format for working professionals interested in project management.






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