Magazine article International Trade Forum

Communication Skills for Negotiations

Magazine article International Trade Forum

Communication Skills for Negotiations

Article excerpt

With a growing number of countries becoming actively engaged in world trade, resulting in intensified contacts between exporters and importers from different cultures, and in increased competition in both domestic and international markets, business executives are faced with a demanding environment for their commercial negotiations. In particular, those in small and medium-size firms need to master negotiating skills in a global setting. Communication techniques are an important part of these skills. Negotiating is first and foremost about communications. It is a dialogue in which each person explains his or her position and listens to what the other person is saying. During this exchange of views, proposals are made and concessions explored. The end result is intended to be increased business.

Some essential elements of effective communications for business negotiations are given below.

Communicating across cultures

Discussions between two negotiators tend to be more difficult and complex when they involve persons from diverse cultural environments than when they concern persons with similar backgrounds. For example, negotiators from a traditional culture often attach more importance to the way in which a proposal is made than to what is being said. In such discussions, what is not said may be just as important as what is said. Negotiators from traditional cultures also often view silence as a form of communication. Silence should therefore be used effectively. Silence can mean respect for the person who has just spoken; the pause is used to analyze what has been said and to prepare an appropriate reply.

In the opening minutes of the discussions, a negotiator has the opportunity to set the climate of the talks by making a short, clear statement of what is expected. This is especially important when negotiating with someone with a different cultural background. Establishing credibility from the outset is essential if the discussions are to progress toward agreement. The first impression tends to influence the rest of the talks.

Negotiators discussing in a language other than their mother tongue should in particular rely to a great extent on visual aids, printed materials, samples, and reference to facts and figures. The old saying, "A picture is worth a thousand words", is appropriate in this context.

To overcome misunderstandings especially when discussing with persons of different backgrounds, it is advisable to use simple, clear language with frequent questioning to ensure that the other persons are following the discussions. Idioms, colloquialisms or words with multiple meanings should be avoided. Similarly, certain words or phrases that may irritate the other side should be omitted. For example, phrases such as ... "To tell the truth", "I will be honest with you", "I will do my best" and "It's none of my business but ..." convey a sense of distrust and make the other person more apprehensive and possibly less cooperative. Likewise avoid stating or accepting from the other side the reply "No problem" when discussing a specific point; an explanation of what is meant should instead be given.

Another common error it to assume that the message has been received and understood with the same values or norms as the person speaking. A typical example is when someone answers with a "Yes" or "No". In some cultures "Yes" means "Yes I understood the question" or "Yes I will consider it" or "Yes I have heard you". In certain cultural environments, "No" is uncommon, and is replaced by a number of expressions to convey the message in an ambiguous or neutral manner.

In cultures in which conflict avoidance is predominant, the negotiator is unlikely to receive straight refusals to proposals but will instead get vague responses. An inexperienced or unprepared negotiator may interpret these messages as relatively positive or may be led to believe that the other side is not yet ready to negotiate or in a position to make decisions. …

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