American Negotiating Style: Part 2

How do others see us? This is a great question and it is especially important to understand how we are viewed as negotiators. (Click here to read Part 1)

Recently, I was teaching the negotiation segment of a course at the Office of Personnel Management’s Eastern Executive Seminar Center. About half the students were American and half were from the government of India. We started talking about national negotiating styles, so I asked “What do you see as the American negotiation style?”  The first answer from the Indian government personnel was “Arrogant!”

Wow! That was a surprise but it put me in mind if a report from the U.S. Institute for Peace (USIP).

The USIP was created by Congress as an independent, non-partisan institution to promote the peaceful resolution of international disputes. Click here to read a full copy of the report.   According to the report, American negotiators see themselves as fair bargainers, but others see us as “less concerned to negotiate than … to persuade, sermonize, or browbeat.”

As the report points out, there are many factors that lead Americans to particular negotiating behavior One of those factors is our Constitutional system. Americans appreciate rules and process. Another is our culture. The report observes that,

Americans tend to subscribe to a view of negotiation as a linear process, a sequence of stages that typically begins with prenegotiation, advances to the opening moves of the formal negotiation, continues through a probing middle phase, and culminates in an end game and a binding agreement.  

The vocabulary of American negotiation draws on several sources. Most evident is language from the business world and science. A second source of vocabulary is sport–particularly American Football and baseball. You might think of “hitting a home run” or “moving the goalposts” as examples. A third source of vocabulary noted in the report is Christian theology. The example given is the term “reconciliation,” which is important in American negotiation literature and practice. A fourth source of vocabulary is labor relations because that field was a basis for the experience of many U.S. diplomats and lawyers.

Just one more observation from the report.

As one would expect given the linguistic and conceptual influences identified above, [Americans] are explicit, precise, legalistic, forceful, even blunt. The United States’ counterparts are rarely in any doubt about what the United States is proposing.

However, while U.S. negotiators are adept at making sure that the other side hears what they say, they are less accomplished at hearing what the other side is not saying. 

Many times in negotiation the context in which a message is delivered is as important as the precise language that is being used. This is something to keep in mind!

We will explore more of the report in the next post about American negotiation behavior.

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This entry was posted in Analyzing Opponents, Communication, Conflict Management, Negotiation Pointers and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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