Cross-Cultural Negotiation: Tips for Success

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "The Culture Map" by Erin Meyer. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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How do you negotiate across the cultural divide? What are some things you should take into account when negotiating with people from different cultures?

When negotiating across cultures, the key thing to take into account is how the people with whom you are negotiating approach persuasion. According to cultural expert Erin Meyer, different kinds of arguments persuade people from different cultures. In other words, what persuades you might not persuade someone from a different culture. 

In this article, we’ll explore the two primary approaches to persuasion and present some strategies you can use to effectively persuade people from different cultures

Theoretical vs. Empirical Persuasion

Cross-cultural negotiation can be tricky. This is because each culture tends towards specific ways of thinking and reasoning about the world, even though most people are capable of all of them. 

Theoretical thinkers tend towards using deductive reasoning when they persuade. When you reason deductively, you first formulate a general hypothesis or concept and then deduce a conclusion from this concept. One common example of deductive reasoning is this: All men are mortal. Socrates is a man. As such, Socrates is mortal. You draw the final conclusion (Socrates is mortal) by combining the first two principles.

In business, a cultural pattern of theoretical thinking translates to a heavier emphasis on the reasons behind a problem. If you give a presentation, a theoretical thinker might ask questions about the methodology you used to gather your data. Similarly, emails written by theoretical thinkers trend on the longer side. First, they present their initial principle. After elaborating on this principle, they’ll then present the biggest counterargument before concluding with the takeaway they want their reader to implement.

Empirical thinkers tend to use inductive reasoning when they argue. When you reason inductively, you look at the data first without formulating an initial hypothesis. You look for patterns and draw conclusions from the phenomena you see in front of you. (Shortform note: As such, inductive reasoning is also particularly prone to confirmation bias, the human tendency to find facts that support rather than deny our opinion even when both are available.)  

In business, a cultural pattern of empirical thinking translates to a heavier emphasis on applying practical solutions to problems. If you give a presentation, an empirical thinker might ask questions about how actionable the strategies you recommend are. Similarly, emails written by empirical thinkers tend to be more concise. They focus on the conclusion they want their reader to draw, and they may not present how they got to that conclusion.

Strategies for Persuading in Different Cultures

Meyer suggests the following strategies for persuading people in different cultures.

#1: Alter the length of your email based on where the reader is from. 

Empirical thinkers prefer shorter, concise emails. If you have trouble limiting your email to 125 words, try this test instead: if it can’t fit on your smartphone screen, shorten it. (Shortform note: This is especially important since more than 70% of people read their emails on their phones.)

Conversely, theoretical thinkers want more background information, so explain how you came to your conclusion. Try to include and address the biggest potential issue with your argument in your email. This follows the Hegelian method, which many theoretical thinkers will be familiar with.

 #2: Include practical examples when presenting—but change the number based on your audience.

Case studies effectively persuade empirical thinkers, who are accustomed to using inductive reasoning to draw their own conclusions. So include several practical examples when your audience consists mostly of empirical thinkers.

While case studies are also effective for theoretical thinkers, some may resist expanding these teachings to their own lives. So spend a little more time on theory than you would with empirical thinkers. Remember that theoretical thinkers will also have theoretical questions. Prepare for them so you can answer them well and not show boredom. (Shortform note: If this involves a different type of thinking than you’re used to, practice. Can you think of theoretical questions to ask? If so, you’ll be better able to answer them.)

#3: Change the details you provide based on your audience.

Analytical thinkers are motivated by specific information. They prefer to know details and deadlines of the project they’re involved in. (Shortform note: But don’t bore them with too much information. At worst, they might check out and not listen to what you have to say.)

In contrast, dialectical thinkers care about the broader impact of their projects. Tell them how individual tasks impact other sections of the project or other members of the company. (Shortform note: You could also try appealing to their sense of duty to some broader unit, like their family or country.)  

In addition to the above, Meyer states that when different kinds of thinkers work on the same team, they may not function effectively since they’re persuaded by different arguments. She presents some strategies to use in this situation. However, these strategies are not exclusive to how cultures reason and are rather general strategies for working with multicultural teams. As such, we’ve moved them to the end of this summary. 

Cross-Cultural Negotiation: Tips for Success

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  • The eight axes you can use as a framework to analyze cultural differences
  • How to better relate to those of another culture to accomplish business goals
  • How the Vikings have more gender equality than we see today

Darya Sinusoid

Darya’s love for reading started with fantasy novels (The LOTR trilogy is still her all-time-favorite). Growing up, however, she found herself transitioning to non-fiction, psychological, and self-help books. She has a degree in Psychology and a deep passion for the subject. She likes reading research-informed books that distill the workings of the human brain/mind/consciousness and thinking of ways to apply the insights to her own life. Some of her favorites include Thinking, Fast and Slow, How We Decide, and The Wisdom of the Enneagram.

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