American Negotiating Style, Part 1

In recent years there has been a good deal written about the American style of negotiation. The information helps diplomats and can be a lesson for Americans negotiating with each other. Knowing about negotiation style helps us understand where others are coming from when they bargain with us.

John McDonald is a senior American diplomat who posted a summary of his assessment of American negotiation style on the American Diplomacy webpage (2001). Here are some of his observations:

Impatient: McDonald believes that Americans are frequently in a rush. Others know this and try to use it to their advantage. He says, “Impatience is such an ingrained, subconscious tendency in most Americans that they don’t even realize the rest of the world marches to the tune of a different drummer.”

Legalistic: McDonald observes that Americans “…are intelligent, hardworking, adversarial, usually dedicated to the task at hand, and legalistic.” By legalistic he seems to mean very concerned with detail and less with general principles. 

Arrogant: This means projecting the belief in one’s superiority and knowing what is best for others.

Poor Listeners: He writes, “Because we have not developed good listening skills, which require patience, we are assumed to be superficial and not interested in other points of view, and therefore arrogant.”

Insular: By this he means limited experience of other cultures. McDonald observes that limited experience often results in being uncomfortable reaching out to others.  This he says is not seen as shyness, but is interpreted as lack of interest.

Naive: Because of a relaxed, informal approach and appearance Americans are sometimes seen as “someone to be taken advantage of.” But McDonald observes that this is “usually incorrect and not long lasting” and can be turned into an advantage.

Friendly: Being out-going and having a sense of humor are important traits that can help build trust. A good sense of humor can “break tension and often helps to move a difficult negotiating process along.”

Fair: Believing in fair play and honesty is an important and respected trait.

Flexible: Good negotiators are trusted by their headquarters to make decisions at the bargaining table. This means such negotiators are more free to craft a solution.  McDonald observes that flexibility is enhanced when the negotiator is supported by a subject matter expert.

Risk Takers: Prepared to put forward new and innovative ideas and suggestions for compromise.

Pragmatic: McDonald says, “We are rarely interested in high-flown rhetoric, long, flowery speeches or a dogmatic, ideological point of view. We want to get on with discussing the substance of the issues …”

Prepared: By this he means that the good negotiator has considered alternatives in advance of the negotiation and, he says, preparation often leads to positive results.

Cooperative: Because American culture is one that requires coordination–whether in business or government–it is natural to recognize the need to work cooperatively with other parties.

These observations are from John McDonald’s earlier article in  the Kluwer Law Journal  (1996).  Click here to read the full text of his post in American Diplomacy.

Click here to read Part 2 of this post.

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