Communicating across borders
I negotiate every day. It’s stressful. It requires nerves of steel. And it often ends with my counterpart breaking down in tears. But that’s a 4-year-old for you.
Negotiating in the world of business, however, requires a different set of skills and approaches - and less ice cream once negotiations have completely broken down.
I recently participated in the course GlobalNegotations, Business Focus offered by GlobalDenmark. I was apprehensive about the course initially, worried that my lack of experience would put me at a disadvantage. However, it was quickly apparent that although the participants all had varying degress of experience at the negotaiting table, we were all going to walk out of the door two days later with a deeper understanding of how to negotiate, when to negotiate, and whether or not we looked good on camera (more on that later).
It was clear from the get-go that this was a course that would involve active participation. We would not be passive recipients, taking in hour after hour of methods, strategies and theory. No, this was going to be learning by doing. And by making mistakes. This can be difficult for some, unnerving for most.
One of my main takeaways from the course, and there were many, was the importance of summation. When leading a meeting or a negotiation, or even just when giving a speech, it is important to remember your audience. Are they going to stick with you the whole way through, might their minds wander, were they momentarily distracted by an email, did you pile on too much information in the middle? When you sum up, you reiterate the main points of what you and others have said. This is vital in making sure that all participants are on the same page. If not, it can lead to confusion and misunderstandings at a later stage.
Another takeaway for me was the fact that a negotiation doesn’t take place in the vacuum of a meeting room. It is a much longer process, with multiple phases. Cultural expectations come into play here.
Danes traditionally expect the negotiation to take place at the table, whereas many other cultures also focus on the preliminary conversations out in the hallway, over coffee before the meeting begins or at a dinner together the night before. Although a seemingly innocent social event, the negotiation has already begun at this point. In such an informal setting, where personal relations are being established, a sense of each other’s needs and interests can begin to appear. And by using non-committal language, or distance modality, we can hover in the sphere of the possible rather than hit the hard ground of certainty.
Oh, and where does the camera come in? The exercises and the introductory remarks by each particiant were filmed. We were able to review our performances privately, and as a group. Once the initial horror of watching and hearing yourself on camera has passed (if ever), you realize what an incredible learning tool it is. To see yourself and others from the other side of the lense makes you better able to evaluate and spot the techniques and pitfalls of a negotiation.
And finally, beware of assumptions. What is said, is not always what is meant. A person’s interests are not always explicitdly stated. When my 4-year-old refuses to walk up four flights of stairs, it’s not necessarily because he’s tired or lazy (which I’m assuming). It may also be because he’d rather go play basketball in the courtyard. But because we’re not communicating clearly, neither of us are particularly happy. And unfortunately, there’s not an ice cream in sight. For either of us. Children are usually surprisingly competent negotiators – the rest of us will have to learn how to do it properly. And that was the objective of the GlobalNegotiations workshop. There may be an ice cream coming anyway!
Intern at GlobalDenmark