Don’t get Lost in Translation

By — on / Daily, International Negotiation

Adapted from “Coping with Culture at the Bargaining Table,” first published in the Negotiation newsletter.

As if intercultural negotiations weren’t complicated enough, you may find yourself facing a language barrier. Whenever one party doesn’t speak the other party’s language well, you should consider hiring a translator (or one for each language, if necessary).

The presence of translators slows down negotiations and increases the odds of a serious misunderstanding between parties. To head off disasters, Tufts University professor Jeswald W. Salacuse offers these six rules for negotiating in translation:

1. Hire your own translator. Don’t rely on your counterpart’s choice of translator. Instead, seek out a well-qualified interpreter yourself and verify his credentials.

2. Brief your translator in advance. Because your translator is unlikely to know much about your business, you should spend some time going over the purpose of your talks and any special terminology.

3. Identify conflicts of interest. Be aware that a translator could try to influence negotiations in a particular direction in the hope of winning future business from you or your counterpart. For this reason, be vigilant for unnecessary information a translator might add to the conversation.

4. Don’t talk so fast. It takes a while to get used to speaking slowly and in short phrases, but by doing so, you can ensure that your translator doesn’t make mistakes. In addition, avoid using jargon, slang, and abbreviations.

5. Give your translator a break. Because translation is exhausting work, give your translator a break at least once every hour.

6. Respect your translator. Cultivate a friendly, respectful relationship with your translator, who could turn out to be an invaluable source of advice about your counterpart and her culture.

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