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close this bookNegotiator : The Councilor as Negotiator: Handbook 7 (UN Habitat - United Nations Centre for Human Settlements )
close this folderPart I - Essay on the council as negotiator
View the documentDefinition
View the documentSummary
View the documentReflection
View the documentConcepts and ideas
View the documentWin - win negotiating
View the documentAn enlightened view
View the documentReflection
View the documentWhy is negotiating important in local government?
View the documentRespect cultural differences
View the documentReflection
View the documentHow to negotiate more successfully
View the documentPrincipled negotiations
View the documentWhat do you REALLY want?
View the documentDon't announce positions but know what they are
View the documentNegotiation skills: one of the councilor's best friends
View the documentKey points
View the documentReferences

Respect cultural differences

A Japanese businessman and an American professor wrote a book several years ago about bargaining, which is just another word for negotiating. They point out that cultural differences are crucial to the success of the bargaining process. Anyone who has traveled to another country where there is a long, strong tradition of bargaining over the price of goods in the marketplace can surely attest to this fact. We raise the issue of cultural differences for two reasons. First, your bargaining/negotiating approach should mirror the cultural context within which it takes place. This also can include the subtleties of subcultures, such as those one might encounter within your own community. Some would argue that low-income areas develop cultures of their own that need to be both understood and respected in any attempt to develop an effective relationship. Secondly, anything we have to say about negotiations should be run through the local "filters" before it is applied to your own negotiating situation.

Graham and Sano, the two authors just mentioned, included in their book Smart Bargaining a few of the key points of potential conflict between the Japanese and American styles of business negotiations. We relate these to you because they indicate the importance of being aware about such differences and also provide clues about cultural differences you should be looking for as you enter into the negotiation process.

Even before the negotiators from these two countries reach the negotiating table, they must be aware that the Japanese tend to value such things as individual cooperation, group decision making, hierarchical business relationships and something they call "amae" or indulgent dependency. Americans, by contrast, generally value individual competition, individual decision making and action, horizontal business relationships, and much more independence.

Once these two cultures sit down at the bargaining table, they face even greater differences. The Americans favour a short, informal "warm-up session." The Japanese, on the other hand, prefer a longer, more formal opportunity to "settle in" to the negotiations. When it comes to an exchange of information, the Japanese negotiator would have limited authority, take a longer view about the reciprocity of any agreement, and be more implicit in the way he or she communicates. The American, by contrast, would be more explicit, take a much shorter view of reciprocity, and generally have full authority to exchange information. The American would probably put what is considered a "fair" offer on the table immediately whereas his Eastern counterpart would open the negotiations with a much higher offer, leaving more room to manoeuver. As you can see, these two individuals, who come to the negotiating process to agree on a course of action that will benefit both parties, have a few potential barriers to overcome before they can get serious about their real reasons for sitting down together.

You may be dismissing these comments as not being very helpful in your situation. And yet, many local governments find themselves, in this era of rapid change, facing many situations that require them to negotiate across cultural boundaries. The influx of rural people into urban settings, the flow of refugees from another country who settle in your community, the presence of ethnic groups with different life styles and living habits - all of these situations are potentially disruptive to the operation of local government if the differences can't be negotiated successfully.