Solutions for Avoiding Intercultural Barriers at the Negotiation Table

Avoid stereotyping and intercultural barriers in international business negotiations

By PON Staffon / Business Negotiations

Even with a common language and the best of intentions, business negotiators from different cultures face special challenges. Try these solutions for avoiding intercultural barriers when preparing for negotiation between two companies from different cultures:

3 Tips for Avoiding Intercultural Barriers at the Negotiation Table

1. Research your counterpart’s background and experience.

For help in overcoming cultural barriers in business, do a little homework to learn who your negotiating partner will be and find out some details about her background and experience. If your counterpart has a great deal of international negotiating experience, you can probably assume that cultural stereotyping (and any effort to modify your negotiating strategy accordingly) is likely to create new communication difficulties rather than solve old ones. If you have trouble getting information about your negotiating partner, ask an intermediary with contacts at that firm or organization to make inquiries for you. (Be sure the intermediary understands that he is not authorized to make any commitments on your behalf.)


Discover step-by-step techniques for avoiding common business negotiation pitfalls when you download a copy of the FREE special report, Business Negotiation Strategies: How to Negotiate Better Business Deals, from the Program on Negotiation at Harvard Law School.


2. Enlist an adviser from your counterpart’s culture.

If you discover that the person with whom you are likely to be negotiating has little or no international or cross-cultural experience, consider enlisting someone from his culture to serve as your “second” in negotiations. Rather than deferring to this adviser during talks, plan out signals in advance to indicate when you should take a break for additional advice. In this manner, your cultural “guide” can help you size up the situation, coach you as needed, and even interject if he feels you have made an egregious error or misinterpretation.

3. Pay close attention to unfolding negotiation dynamics.

Listen carefully during talks. If you’re unsatisfied with the answers you receive, reframe your questions and try again. If you’re unsure about what the other side said, repeat what you think you heard.  It’s safe to assume that people living and working in different cultural settings often view or interpret the same events differently. But in our era of globalization, it’s also true that we have more in common on the person-to-person level than you might expect. Don’t ignore your intuition, and mind your manners.

Importance of negotiation in business

Most business professionals recognize when they need technical or legal expertise to proceed with a deal-making interaction. Similarly, cross-cultural negotiators should realize that they might well need solutions for avoiding intercultural barriers, such as help in sizing up the situation in advance, or interpreting the signals and norms that could make or break a negotiation in a crosscultural context.

What have you done to reduce intercultural barriers in past negotiations? 


Discover step-by-step techniques for avoiding common business negotiation pitfalls when you download a copy of the FREE special report, Business Negotiation Strategies: How to Negotiate Better Business Deals, from the Program on Negotiation at Harvard Law School.


Related Business Negotiations Article: How To Overcome Cultural Barriers: Overseas Negotiations Advice 

Adapted from “What Gets Lost in Translation,” by Lawrence Susskind, first published in the Negotiation Briefings newsletter.

Originally published in 2015.