International Negotiation: More About Preparing to Win

In our previous post on international negotiations, we discussed the critical importance of preparation and gathering facts. You can’t control all the factors, but you can control your knowledge base. The bigger that base is, the higher the chances for success.

As noted before, your charge as an international negotiator is to conduct thorough background work on everything that could impact your potential deal. This includes trying to account for cultural influence on business behaviors, regulations unique to that country, and more. Here we will suggest information sources that will widen your knowledge base and make you a more credible negotiator. In some cases, access to these sources may be limited due to considerations of distance or protocol.

International business and travel books (and online research)

Every culture has business customs that can drive success or failure at the international negotiations table. We keep the door open for fruitful deals by first avoiding the obvious blunders that will create mistrust, loss of face and bad feelings. Should you be direct or indirect? Will the teams operate on consensus or more independently? Should you bring a gift? Should you make small talk? Should you address a junior member of the other team? For each company and country, there can be a different answer. These are things to think about with our own cultural blinders taken off. Just as we examine the strengths and weaknesses of the other side’s business to sharpen our value arguments, we should also examine their culture to build our credibility and leverage at the negotiating table. One simple series, the “Doing Business in…” pamphlet books from Peggy Kenna and Sondra Lacy, is a solid resource. Though from the 1990s, it is a quick guide of the basics associated with business, communications and negotiations in a number of cultures. Of course there are many other works available both about international cross-cultural business considerations as well as those specific to doing business in certain countries.

Local and regional coverage

What kind of coverage has the company garnered in local and regional media? This can yield important clues to what the business culture values in general, as well as clues about the company’s market position, deals, and more.

Past deals and contracts

If you have a history with the client, past deals and contracts can give clues to what the other side may request in the next round of negotiation. If those deals or contracts were not done by you personally, find out who did them. Discover what information those people can share with you to help in your negotiation.

Consult with fellow employees, past and present

Has anybody in your organization spent considerable time doing business in the industry or country where you will seek your deal?

Read the company’s annual reports

If available, annual reports can reveal an astonishing wealth of information. You can use these to spot trends, to see a list of top company priorities, to understand company values, to gauge what the company sees as its strengths and weaknesses, and to make educated guesses about what kinds of information are emphasized.

Company web pages

Using what you’ve learned about the culture as a filter, you can use the information on company websites to get a clearer picture of company strengths and weaknesses. You can also see what things they value, by reading such entries as success stories.

General business reports

How the company is perceived by the general public tells you a lot about their strengths and weaknesses. That kind of information comes from business news sources such as the Wall Street Journal, Dun and Bradstreet Reports, Harte-Hanks Reports and more. Specialized global reports by experts and analysts can often be necessary to supplement your investigation.

Wine and dine the other side

More informal environments with all parties at ease can be extremely helpful. In some countries, it may even be viewed as a necessity to closing the deal! Listen closely during these occasions, taking into account the cultural sensitivities of the other side. Make sure that your team understands these sensitivities beforehand – the other side is not alone in operating informally at such events. You can lose as much as you gain if your team is uncontrolled.

Make a personal visit

While travel expense is a consideration, there’s no substitute for taking your own measure first-hand. Seeing the company offices, facilities and having the chance to talk with their employees can be invaluable. Before making your request, do your research to determine whether or not the other side may find it intrusive or unseemly.

Become their customer

One way to scope out a company’s strengths and weaknesses is to become a customer of their product or service. Seek the opportunity to try out their products, visit their stores (if they have a retail operation) or attend education sessions they provide for customers. What they stress is a key to what is important to their customers. You may also get the opportunity to interact with customers and get their perspective.

In our next post, we’ll discuss two important universal tools for defining desired outcomes and negotiation goal-setting.