Academic journal article Journal of Organizational Culture, Communications and Conflict

Silent Messages in Negotiations: The Role of Nonverbal Communication in Cross-Cultural Business Negotiations

Academic journal article Journal of Organizational Culture, Communications and Conflict

Silent Messages in Negotiations: The Role of Nonverbal Communication in Cross-Cultural Business Negotiations

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT

This study specifically explored the perceived importance of the following nonverbal factors in the negotiation process: proxemics (location and negotiation site), physical arrangement (seating and furniture arrangement), and kinesics (eye contact, facial expressions and gestures). The participants are professional business negotiators of different nationalities. The findings show that the negotiators' perception about the three factors and their roles in negotiation are consistent with the nonverbal communication literature.

INTRODUCTION

Negotiation with China is a topic which has received more and more attention in recent years (Chang, 2003; Palich, Carini, & Livingstone, 2002; Tinsley & Pillutla, 1998, Chen & Faure 1995, Leung & Yeung, 1995; Pye, 1982; Gordon, 1986). Although it has been studied in terms of negotiation styles (Pye, 1982) and intercultural differences (Mente, 1992; Gordon, 1986), there has been a scarcity of studies (Wheeler & Nelson, 2003; Mayfield, Martin, & Herbig, 1998; Stettner, 1997; Kharbanda & Stallworthy, 1991; Johnson, McCarty, & Allen, 1976) that examine the role of nonverbal communication in the negotiation process. Furthermore, no empirical studies were found which examine specifically the role of nonverbal communication in multi-national business negotiations by collecting data from the real world professional business negotiators. It is worth pointing out that the participants in this study are the real world professional business negotiators who report more precisely about what the negotiators' perception than the student sample and simulation method used in the past.

THE CURRENT PROBLEM

As we enter the 21st century, cross-cultural concerns and business will become more and more significant (Chu, Ma, & Green, 2004; Chu, 2003). "One reason is indicated by such terms as world economy, global village, and spaceship earth which indicate the interdependence facing all of us on this planet. The ozone layer and global warming are a concern of all countries.... Today more than ever, no country can isolate itself from the rest of the world" (Terpstra, 1993, p.3). The nature of this article is necessary given that increasingly there is a move toward a multi-national economy in this century. Therefore, since nonverbal communication is a critical component of negotiations, it is important to examine its role within the context of multi-national negotiations. This article will specifically explore the perceived importance of the following nonverbal factors in the negotiation process: proxemics (location and negotiation site), physical arrangement (seating and furniture arrangement), and kinesics (eye contact, facial expressions and gestures).

The rest of this paper is organized as follows: First, the paper provides the theoretical background and research questions. Second, presents descriptions of data, instrument and methodology. Third, discusses the empirical results and findings. Finally, points out the managerial implications of this empirical study, its limitation and the suggestions for future research.

HISTORICAL OVERVIEW OF THE NEGOTIATION PROCESS

Negotiation is "a broad conflict management process involving discussions between and among individuals who are interdependent and need to come together for a decision or course of action; frequently associated with the need to compromise effectively" (Shockley-Zalabak, 1988, p. 247).

The process of negotiation involves exchanging messages, both verbal and nonverbal. It is argued that the ability to analyze these nonverbal behaviors adds to a negotiator's overall negotiating ability. Nonverbal signals are deemed as important tools, for they can imply a meaning without verbally committing the negotiator to a particular action, i.e., nonverbal cues cannot be interpreted as promises in the same way that verbal messages can (Smith, 1998). …

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