Magazine article Management Today

A Clear-Cut Case for Compromise

Magazine article Management Today

A Clear-Cut Case for Compromise

Article excerpt

When negotiations between natiom break down, it might be time for a compromise. But in some cultures, flexibility is seen as a virtue, in others a weakness that leads to an erosion of the negotiator's position.

Even what at first seem to be the most straightforward of negotiations can run into dispute or deadlock. When such situations occur between nationals of one culture the momentum can usually be regained through the use of a well-tried mechanism. Deadlocks can be broken, for instance, by a change of negotiators, change of venue, an adjournment of the session or a repackaging of the deal. Arab teams will take a recess for prayer and come back with a more conciliatory stance; Japanese delegations will bring in senior executives to `see what the problem is'; Swedish opponents will go out drinking together; and Finns will retire to the sauna.

Of course, such options are not always available in international negotiations. Moreover, cultural difference can often mean that the nature of the deadlock is misconstrued by both parties. The mechanism classically favoured by Anglo-Saxons in such circumstances is that of compromise - a form at which the British, with their supposedly innate sense of fair play, believe themselves to excel. The Scandinavians are very `British' in this respect, while the American willingness to compromise is seen in their frequent recourse to horse-trading and give-and-take tactics.

Yet in any situation, intelligent, meaningful compromise is only possible when one side is able to see how the other sets out its priorities and understands how culturally-affected notions of dignity, conciliation and reasonableness come into play. In some cultures, for example, flexibility in negotiation is seen as a virtue. In others it is regarded as a weakness that inevitably leads to an erosion of the negotiator's position. An English dictionary typically defines `compromise' as the `settlement of a dispute by concessions on both or all sides'. A second definition reads `an exposure of one's good name or reputation'. Clearly, one has to tread carefully.

In some countries, accordingly, compromise is held in low esteem. To the French, for example, `give and take' is simply an Anglo-Saxon euphemism for `wheel and deal', which they see as an inelegant tactic for chiselling away at their carefully-constructed logic. …

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