International Negotiations and Cognitive Biases in Negotiation

Negotiation research describes how cognitive biases in negotiation impact negotiator behavior in international negotiations

By PON Staffon / International Negotiation

international negotiations

In discussing international negotiations and cognitive biases in negotiation, professor Cheryl Rivers of Queensland University of Technology in Brisbane, Australia, highlights in a negotiation research literature review, seasoned negotiators often hear stories about the unethical behaviors of people of other nationalities.

Perhaps the toughest problems arise surrounding what Rivers calls “ethically ambiguous” negotiation tactics and negotiation strategies. Ambiguity can lead us to reach sinister conclusions about the motives of our counterparts, particularly when we lack a solid understanding of an opponent’s culture.


Click here to download your copy of International Negotiations: Cross-Cultural Communication Skills for International Business Executives from
 the Program on Negotiation at Harvard Law School.


Findings from Negotiation Research: International Negotiation Examples 

Rivers summarizes a variety of cultural differences in negotiation. For example, Asians are more likely to view cultivating a relationship with a negotiating counterpart through expensive gifts, entertainment, or personal favors as more ethically appropriate than would Americans or Canadians. Similarly, she notes that although Mexicans have higher standards than Americans about what is ethically appropriate, necessity is more likely to lead Mexicans to violate these standards.

Like any differences between groups, these cultural differences are small, on average. Nonetheless, we tend to overuse the stereotypes that arise from these small differences, and these stereotypes block us from noting important individuating information. Thus, we too often act as if the person on the other side of the table represents the cultural stereotype we’re expecting. From her statements and behaviors, we seek confirmatory information to back up these stereotypes. Perhaps most problematic, when a counterpart uses ethically ambiguous negotiation tactics, we adopt sinister explanations for her motives.

When it comes to negotiating behavior, more variance often exists within cultures than between them. Negotiators should seek out information about individual and cultural differences. However, international negotiators are more likely to assume that people from other cultures are behaving unethically than they are to realize that standards of ethical behavior vary. Therefore, don’t jump to harsh conclusions about the other side’s motives when more benevolent explanations for their behavior are possible.

Do you have any experience with international negotiations? Share your experience in the comments.

For More International Negotiation Examples, see also: Top International Negotiation Stories of 2013


Click here to download your copy of International Negotiations: Cross-Cultural Communication Skills for International Business Executives from
 the Program on Negotiation at Harvard Law School.


Related Article: Overcoming Intercultural Barriers – Solutions for Avoiding Intercultural Barriers

See Also: Top 10 Best Negotiations of 2014

Originally published in 2010.