Teach Your Students Cross-Cultural Negotiation

By — on / Teaching Negotiation


As our world grows increasingly interconnected, we are more likely to find ourselves negotiating in a cross-cultural context. The diverse makeup of many societies and global nature of business today make cross-cultural negotiation a regular part of life. Also, unfortunately, many major disputes in need of resolution cross ethnic and cultural lines. Furthermore, it is important to recognize that someone can carry multiple cultures (ethnic, national, organizational etc.) simultaneously. Understanding when, where, how and with whom it is appropriate to negotiate any given issue is extremely important in cross-cultural negotiation.

Role-play simulations are an insightful and engaging way to teach students to communicate and negotiate in a cross-cultural context. Check out these great cross-cultural role-play simulations available through the Teaching Negotiation Resource Center (TNRC):

Hiring a Newtonian

This one hour, two-party, multi-issue negotiation is between a human resources director and a prospective employee over terms of hire that highlight cultural difference. Major lessons in this simulation include:

  • This exercise highlights the cultural elements of negotiation and helps sensitize participants to potential cultural differences.
  • This exercise also highlights the potential discrepancy between intent (by one party) and impact (on another party).

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MedLee: In Pursuit of a Healthy Joint Venture 

This three hour, two-party, four-issue negotiation is between representatives of two companies with different national and corporate cultures regarding a possible joint venture. MedDevice, a U.S.-based Fortune 500 company that manufactures high technology medical equipment, and Lee Medical Supply, a small Thailand-based company that distributes medical equipment in Southeast Asia, seek to conclude a joint venture. The venture, to be named MedLee, Ltd., will take the form of a Bangkok sales office that distributes MedDevice brand medical equipment. The CEOs have met and signed a Memorandum of Understanding. They have now instructed their subordinates to conduct preliminary negotiations on four issues they consider central to the joint venture: decision making, staffing, profit distribution, and a conflict resolution mechanism. MedDevice and Lee Medical Supply differ greatly in their corporate cultures, which are shaped by their national cultures and the demands of their respective industries. Major lessons include:

  • Handling the challenges involved in preparing for and conducting cross-cultural negotiations.
  • Recognizing and dealing with divergent assumptions and perspectives.
  • Bridging cultural differences and communicating effectively across cultures.
  • Handling principal-agent tensions.

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Canada-China Panda Acquisition Negotiation 

This three hour, two-team (6 person), multi-issue contract negotiation is between Canadian zoo CEOs and representatives of Chinese organization responsible for giant panda loans. In 2010, after years of communication with the Chinese Association of Zoological Gardens (CAZG) concerning a loan of giant pandas, Toronto Zoo officials see a “ripe moment” to intensify their efforts and undertake formal negotiations.  They designate a Chinese-Canadian spokesman and discuss partnering with Calgary Zoo.  The Canadians face serious challenges, however.  Giant pandas are an endangered species native only to one country: China.  Moreover as “star attractions,” they are in demand by zoos all over the world. Major lessons include:

  • To achieve a satisfactory agreement from a low-power position, a negotiator must focus on parties’ interests and resources, and generate creative (non-standard) proposals.
  • Identify and resolve internal differences before commencing external negotiations so that the negotiation team can act cohesively.  Internal cooperation is especially important when the team experiences pressure in external negotiations.
  • To make progress in complex negotiations (many issues of various types), negotiators must clearly and explicitly set forth an agenda of items for discussion.  How, and when, they are discussed should be deliberate and strategic.
  • Negotiators should move back and forth between discussions of the “big picture” and the hammering out of details.
  • Negotiators must strategically choose to reveal or withhold information.  Too much or too little information, at the wrong time, can drastically affect the attainment of their individual goals.

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Athens-Melos Role Play

The Athens-Melos Role Play is based on the historical conflict between the Greek city-states of Athens and Melos, in the year 416 BCE. It takes place during the seven-year interlude of peace in the middle of the Peloponnesian war between Athens and Sparta. Melos is an island in the Aegean Sea that is culturally connected to Sparta, yet deeply values its independence. In 416 BCE, Athens has sent a fleet and soldiers to demand that Melos join the Delian League, a coalition of Greek city-states led by Athens for more than 60 years. Athens is particularly worried about Melos’ connection to Athens’ enemy, Sparta, and is also interested in converting Melos into a democracy. The leaders of Melos do not want to give up their stable oligarchic government or their independence, and immediately send a messenger to Sparta to ask for help. Now, delegates from Athens and Melos are meeting to see if they can avoid war. The delegates must decide (a) whether Athens and Melos will establish a military truce to reduce tensions during the negotiations; (b) whether Melos will join the Delian League; (c) if so, whether Melos will contribute tribute, troops, or ships to the League; and (d) whether Melos will retain its own form of oligarchic government.

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Bamara Border Dispute 

This three hour, two-team, multi-issue negotiation is between representatives of two fictional countries regarding a disputed border and a military stand-off. Durnia and Ebegon, two developing nations, have not yet settled their common border. This issue has become critical due to recent oil and mineral development opportunities that have arisen in areas of uncertain ownership. Unfortunately, the two departing colonialist powers left behind substantially overlapping claims, and the history of the region has been marked by tribal conflict. Relations have been deteriorating, and, with the good offices of the U.N., the two countries have sent teams to negotiate a border. Major lessons include:

  • This simulation provides a good vehicle for experimenting with different negotiating strategies. There are a fair number of interests with varying intensities, some shared, some dove-tailing, and other others conflicting. Options for joint gain are plentiful.
  • Information exchange is helpful in ameliorating the military crisis and developing intelligent solutions that maximize joint gains. On the other hand, much advantage can be gained by not revealing certain important pieces of information — raising questions of deception and misrepresentation.
  • The war version places the parties under pressure that may result in a power imbalance.
  • Comparisons between internal and international negotiations are illustrative.

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Take your training to the next level with the TNRC

The Teaching Negotiation Resource Center (TNRC) offers a wide range of effective teaching materials, including

TNRC negotiation exercises and teaching materials are designed for educational purposes. They are used in college classroom settings or corporate training settings; used by mediators and facilitators seeking to introduce their clients to a process or issue; and used by individuals who want to enhance their negotiation skills and knowledge.

Negotiation exercises and role-play simulations introduce participants to new negotiation and dispute resolution tools, techniques and strategies. Our videos, books, case studies, and periodicals are also a helpful way of introducing students to key concepts while addressing the theory and practice of negotiation and conflict management.

Which negotiation exercises have helped you? Let us know in the comments.

Check out all that the TNRC has in store >> 

The Program on Negotiation at Harvard Law School
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