Fostering Cultural Intelligence in International Negotiations

Some negotiators are better than others at overcoming cultural barriers

By — on / International Negotiation

In a Harvard Business Review article, P. Christopher Earley and Elaine Mosakowski describe the value of improving your cultural intelligence, or the ability to make sense of unfamiliar contexts and adapt to them. Some people are naturally skilled at determining whether a person’s behavior is unique to him or determined by his culture. For others, this process requires more effort. Regardless, this ability is important for successful international negotiations.

Earley and Mosakowski illustrate this point through a domestic and an international example. Peter, a Los Angeles-based sales manager for Eli Lilly pharmaceuticals, was transferred to the company’s Indianapolis headquarters. In L.A., Peter’s confrontational, high-pressure style was the norm and effectively motivated his sales staff. In Indianopolis, his new team disliked his hard-charging ways and avoided the challenges he set for them.

Interestingly, Earley and Mosakowski have found that the most socially successful among us often have the greatest difficulty making sense of cultural strangers and being accepted by them. It seems that those who thrive in their own culture are often thrown off by unfamiliar practices, while those who are more detached from their own culture often have an easier time adopting the social mores and body language of a new environment. In Peter’s case, his success in L.A. made it difficult for him to alter his style to his new work environment.

Now take a different negotiation example, the story of the Daimler-Chrysler international negotiations to merge the two companies. In the Daimler-Chrysler merger, Daimler CEO Juergen Schrempp, understanding the critical role of negotiation in international business, showed keen cultural intelligence by understanding that Chrysler CEO Robert Eaton would want to protect Chrysler’s standing as a strong American brand. Schrempp knew that if he didn’t agree to the concept of a “merger of equals,” the deal wouldn’t go through.

Eventually, his apparent respect for Eaton’s pride was revealed to be calculating and insincere. Nonetheless, the merger of Daimler and Chrysler went through, and the negotiations between the two cultures were a success for Schrempp.

Though some people are more naturally culturally intelligent than others, you can develop your cultural intelligence quotient, or “CQ,” by trying to read others in low-pressure situations. Think about the snap judgments you’ve made about people you’ve gotten a chance to know better. Chances are, you see now that your initial judgments relied heavily on stereotypes that proved to be inaccurate. Remember this the next time you’re tempted to pigeonhole a fellow negotiator.

Related Posts:
Famous Negotiators Feature in Top Negotiations of 2012
New Book Series: Breakthrough International Negotiation
International Negotiations: A Game of Chess…or Marbles?
The Deal is Done – Now What?
Win-Win Negotiations: Managing Your Counterpart’s Satisfaction

Originally published on June 5, 2012.

The Program on Negotiation at Harvard Law School
501 Pound Hall
1563 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, Massachusetts 02138
tel 1-800-391-8629
tel (if calling from outside the US) 301-528-2676
fax 617-495-7818