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Cross Cultural Negotiations in International Business


Are you involved in negotiations with people from other countries and cultures?

Do you sometimes get confused with the negotiation process?

Have you ever felt that cultural differences may be getting in the way of a successful negotiation?

Looking for tips on how to improve your negotiation style and techniques?

Then lucky for you, you're in the right place!

We're going to give you some quick tips about cross cultural negotiations and what you can try to bring about successful conclusions!

Why is Cultural Awareness Necessary in Negotiations?

Negotiating is one of many specialized areas within the wider field of cross cultural communications. By investing in cultural awareness, negotiators and sales personnel give themselves an advantage over competitors.

There is an argument that proposes that culture is inconsequential to cross cultural negotiations. It maintains that as long as a proposal is financially attractive it will succeed. However, this is a naïve way of approaching international business.

Let us look at a brief example of how some cultural awareness can benefit the international business person:

Imagine that there are two negotiators dealing with the same potential client in the Middle East.

Both have identical proposals and packages.


  • One ignores the importance of cultural awareness training, believing the proposal will speak for itself.
  • The other undertakes some training. He/she learns about the culture, values, beliefs, etiquette and approaches to business, meetings and negotiations.


9/10 the latter will succeed over the rival. This is because...


  1. it is likely they would have endeared themselves more to the host negotiation team and
  2. they would be able to tailor their approach to the negotiations in a way that maximises the potential of a positive outcome.

8 Cultural Differences in Cross Cultural Negotiations

International business negotiation is about more than just how foreigners close deals.

It involves looking at all factors that can influence the proceedings.

By way of highlighting this, a few brief examples of topics covered in cross cultural negotiation training shall be covered.

1. Eye Contact

In the US, UK and much of northern Europe, strong, direct eye contact conveys confidence and sincerity. In South America it is a sign of trustworthiness. However, in some cultures such as the Japanese, prolonged eye contact is considered rude and is generally avoided.

2. Personal Space & Touch

In Europe and North America, business people will usually leave a certain amount of distance between themselves when interacting. Touching only takes place between friends. In South America or the Middle East, business people are tactile and like to get up close.

In Japan or China, it is not uncommon for people to leave a gap of four feet when conversing. Touching only takes place between close friends and family members.

india flag cartoon



Negotiating with Indians?

Then click here to explore the Indian negotiation style!



3. Time

Western societies are very 'clock conscious'. Time is money and punctuality is crucial. This is also the case in countries such as Japan or China where being late would be taken as an insult.

However, in South America, southern Europe and the Middle East, being on time for a meeting does not carry the same sense of urgency.

4. Meeting & Greeting

Most international business people meet with a handshake. In some countries this is not appropriate between genders. Some may view a weak handshake as sign of weakness whereas others, such as the Japanese, would perceive a firm handshake as aggressive.

How should people be addressed? Is it by first name, surname or title? Is small talk part of the proceedings or not?

5. Gift-Giving

In Japan and South Korea gift-giving is an integral part of business protocol however in the USA or UK, it has negative connotations.

Where gifts are exchanged should one give lavish gifts? Are they always reciprocated? Should they be wrapped? Are there numbers or colours that should be avoided?

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Negotiating with the Japanese?

Then click here to explore the Japanese negotiation style!



6. The Basis of the Relationship

In much of Europe and the USA, business is contractual in nature. Personal relationships are seen as unhealthy as they can cloud objectivity and lead to complications.

In South America and much of Asia, business is personal. Partnerships will only be made with those they know, trust and feel comfortable with. It is therefore necessary to invest in relationship building before conducting business.

7. Information at Negotiations

Western business culture places emphasis on clearly presented and rationally argued business proposals using statistics and facts. Other business cultures rely on similar information but with differences.

For example, visual and oral communicators, such as the Turks, may prefer information presented through speech or using maps, graphs and charts.

usamap icon



Negotiating with Americans?

Then click here to explore the American negotiation style!



8. Negotiation Styles

The way in which we approach negotiation differs across cultures. For example, in the Middle East rather than approaching topics sequentially negotiators may discuss issues simultaneously. South Americans can become quite vocal and animated. The Japanese will negotiate in teams and decisions will be based upon consensual agreement.

In Asia, decisions are usually made by the most senior figure or head of a family. In China, negotiators are highly trained in the art of gaining concessions. In Germany, decisions can take a long time due to the need to analyse information and statistics in great depth.bIn the UK, pressure tactics and imposing deadlines are ways of closing deals whilst in Greece this would backfire.

We hope you enjoyed our tips! With a little effort, some research into the culture and the right attitude, negotiating across cultures should be a breeze!

Learn More About Culture in International Business

video training

If working across cultures is an important part of your role, then you will benefit from enrolling on our certified online cultural awareness training programme

This programme will help you navigate the complexities of culture, whereever you are in the world, and to build trusting, productive professional relationships.


Photo by U.S Embassy in Jerusalem (CC BY 2.0)

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