Cultural Negotiation Between American Managers Cultural Studies Essay

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This is a guide for three American Managers working in French owned Company in the United States. They are embarking on a journey to Paris to negotiate with the French Managing directors of their company. The issue to be negotiated on is a rise in pay and improved working conditions, for workers in the United States branch. This negotiation is an interest based negotiation aiming for a win-win situation.

One of the biggest mistakes in any discussion of negotiation practices is to ignore differences between cultures. What makes someone a good negotiator in one culture, may well not work in another. As Prabhu Guptara says, different social groups have different ideas of what is proper protocol and procedure. The emphasis placed on preliminaries varies, and the order and spirit in which different elements of negotiation are approached can be radical different among cultures. "Hilthrop and Udall 1995"

To avoid any cross-cultural disagreement and misunderstanding during negotiations, I am going to give a little insight into the cultural differences and features of the two chosen countries. France and United States.


Different cultures affect how individuals will behave in international negotiations. One's own assumptions appear to be normal and realistic because they are familiar and unquestioned when negotiating domestically (Kimmel, 180). Therefore to some extent, the negotiators are prisoners of their culture which in turn act as a regulator of social interaction (Faure 2). This can easily lead to a sense of naivety that people are the same everywhere.

To explain some of the differences in business between the two countries I will use a study conducted by Geert Hofstede.

According to Geert Hofstede, in a land mark study of national cultures, Geert Hofstede analysed survey data from 116,000 employees of IBM in over fifty different countries during the period 1967-73. His findings show that:

People in different countries have different views of what is fair, reasonable and proper behaviour.

These differences can be explained to a larger extent by these four key factors

Power Distance- This is associated with the degree of centralisation of authority and extent of autocratic leadership.

High power distance countries like France are characterised by bosses that are much more powerful and influential than their subordinates. They have access to privileges and are seen as mini gods by their superiors.

Whereas the United States is more of a low power distance country as it is characterised by employees that expect their superiors to be accessible and do not mind bypassing their bosses to get work done. Some assumptions of Hofstede's theory show that employees from countries with high power distance will spend less time in the persuasion and compromise part of the negotiation, than employees from countries with lower power distance.

Fig 1. say wat this graph is


This is extent to which the dominant values in a society are masculine values, such as the acquisition of wealth and goods, assertiveness and competition. Masculine cultures define gender roles more strictly than feminine societies, and expect managers to be decisive and assertive. On the other hand, feminine cultures stress more on equality, solidarity and quality of work. They also expect their managers to use intuition and strive for consensus. Hofstede's findings suggest that France is highly feminine and the United States is moderately masculine. Assumptions from his theory also state that employees from cultures that score high on masculinity will spend less time in the persuasion stage of negotiation than those that scored lower.

Fig 2… say wat the graph is


This is the extent to which individuals are integrated into groups. Where there is high individualism, people expect to take care of just themselves and their immediate families. There is also high emphasis on self respect. France and the United States have this in common as they are both individualistic cultures. This feature is particularly important to the French as they love to have freedom of opinion. Assumptions state that employees from collectivist cultures will dedicate more time to planning prior to and debriefing after negotiations than those from individualistic cultures.

Fig 3… say wat the graph is


This basically measures the extent to which people in a society feel threatened by ambiguous situations and the extent to which they try to avoid unstructured situations. They do this through formulating formal roles, providing career stability and rejecting deviant behaviour. They like to be able to control their future and are often authoritative. The US ranks low on uncertainty avoidance, while France ranks highly. Citizens of high uncertainty avoidance cultures like France are threatened by ambiguous situations. So In dealings with them, it is wise to be fully prepared, as they expect all details to be at hand. Assumptions state that employees from these cultures will spend more time in the agreement portion of the negotiation than those from low uncertainty avoidance cultures.

Fig 3… say wat the graph is

The Cultural differences that must be taken into account may turn out to be as important as that found in certain contrasting set of values that determine the hierarchy of negotiating objectives themselves, or as trivial as behaviour mannerisms or non-verbal cues that subtly block confidence and trust. Even gestures and other non-verbal behaviour may contribute to a psychological unease that makes communication more difficult (Fisher, 7).

Some other cultural features and values of the French that might be of importance to the American Managers to understand before embarking on their negotiation trip :

The French people are a proud and individualistic people. As such, the rooster is often used to symbolise the French character. They have a very deep sense of their history and culture, (Lavarty and Klein 2001) Business meeting and negotiations with the French, should be booked in advance, by phone or by writing. Most holidays are taken in July and August, and as the French hold their holiday and personal life in high esteem, these months should be avoided in planning meetings. Christmas and Easter periods should be avoided as well. Hardly any other culture holds their language in such high esteem, as the French, they are extremely proud of their language. As a result, the inability to speak even basic French might be used against you. Most Americans are just able to speak English, so it advisable to learn basic civilities prior to the negotiation. Even if you are not able to master any, an apology for being unable to speak their language, might go a long way in establishing and developing a relationship. The French draw information on people based on their physical appearance and mode of dressing. Americans are notoriously casual dressers while the French see your business attire as a reflection of your success, so if you turn up to a meeting casually dressed, they might find it hard to hide their distaste. So it is best to drop the casual attire and strive for a stylish, tasteful yet conservative look. The French are relatively relaxed about punctuality, so turning up ten minutes late to a meeting, might seem perfectly normal to them, but will most likely be very irritating to the Americans who are very time conscious and like to get as many things done in as short a time as possible. They are proud of their culture's influence on philosophy, fashion art and cuisine, "They are immersed in their own history and tend to believe that France has set the norms for such things as democracy, justice, government and legal systems, military strategy, philosophy, science, agriculture, vini-culture, and savoir vivre in general. (Lewis, 202). Consequently, the "Americanisation" of the world and Western Europe in particular is painful to them. It is not that they hate American culture, but they love their own culture and language so passionately that they will do almost anything to preserve it. In fact they have an "academie" which exists for the very purpose. It is important to understand a bit of this cultural background in order to know where the French person is coming from.(Lavaty and Klein 2001).

A wonderful example of cultural differences appeared in a systematic survey by Andre Laurent of upper middle managers attending executive programmes. They were asked to respond to this statement.

"Is it important for managers to have at hand precise answers to most of the questions that his subordinates may raise about their work?"

Only a small minority of the American managers (13%) agreed to this statement, whereas on the other hand majority of the French managers (59%) agreed with the statement. The results of this survey show that Americans do not necessarily expect their superiors to have answers and solutions to every problem, while the French demand that their superiors have solutions at all times. As a result, French mangers are prone to acting like they have all the answers, because failure to do so, could lead to the loss of their credibility as managers.


The French style of communicating is different from that of the Americans. The French are more formal than the Americans, so on first meeting; do not refer to them by their first names. This might be challenging for the Americans because, it is the norm to refer to one another by first names. Monsieur or Madame should be used before the first name when they meet someone, they do not refer to them on first name basis; Doing so could be seen as disrespectful and intrusive. Do not attempt to be over friendly, or ask too many personal questions when introduced. The French generally tend to do many things at once. In a typical French conversation, several people will speak at once, and interruptions are common, in the US, frequent interruptions could be perceived as rude, as we tend to speak in turn (Lavaty and Kleiner, 2001).Finally the French pride themselves on their language and they try to speak with a certain amount of precision." The ability to use language well is considered the mark of an intelligent, educated person. They admire sophistication, learning and nuance. The French relish conflict and spirited discussions. (Kenna and Lacy 16).They enjoy arguing and being able to discuss all angles of a subject during negotiations. To them, it is important to allow everyone the opportunity to express their own opinions. Criticism is not welcomed as it can lead to loss of face and embarrassment. Americans on the other hand, tend to find long discussions to be a waste of time. They would rather come to a quick conclusion than debate all angles of an issue (Lavaty and Kleiner 2001)


Non verbal communication is a very important factor in cross cultural negotiations. It encompasses the non-verbal facets of facial expression and gesture as well as the spoken word (Lavaty and Kleiner 2001). In France children are taught from an early age not to smile at strangers said one French man."Americans smile all the time, always the same. For us, there must be a reason... When I am introduced to another man, if he smiles, then I think to myself he is one of three things: He is making fun of me, he is hypocritical or he's very stupid" (Platt, 27). This basically gives an insight into the way the French people interact with others around them. In the US if you don't smile, you come across as a rude person. Differences can even be detected in handshakes. In the US, vigorous handshakes are given when you are first introduced to someone, whereas in France, handshakes are given more frequently but not as vigorously.


Many sceptics recognise that negotiating internally does pose a task in coping with a wider range of styles of decision making. However the term "cultural factor" is a vague and fuzzy concept not easily translated into practical application (Fisher,7). This is especially true in the internationalized world where national differences have been dispersed into a homogeneous cosmopolitan culture of international negotiation fostered by the UN and other multilateral forums (Zartman, 19). Because multilateral negotiations are becoming more frequent and important than bilateral negotiations, they contribute to this broad negotiating culture (Zartman 20).

In France, negotiation is an established art with a long tradition in international diplomatic relations, with French negotiators and French language at the centre stage. Thus they reflect a sense of self-assurance as they present the logic of their position. They do not see the negotiating table as a place for bargaining or searching for a solution to which they have so carefully prepared (Fisher,39).

According to a survey made by Salacuse in 1998 entitled 'Ten ways that culture affects negotiating style: some survey results' there are ten negotiation factors that can be influenced by one's culture. I will relate these factors to the French and American cultures to see what this influence is.

Negotiating Goals- In negotiating with the French, the contract is of utmost importance. They care more about the contract they are working on and achieving it than developing any sort of relationship with the other party.

Attitude to Negotiation Process- the French come into the negotiation with a with a win-win attitude. If a slates man has been reached during the negotiation, the French will continually state their position. It will be entirely up to you to take their argument apart, and possibly look to approach the issue from a different angle. However, once a decision has been reached, the only way of overturning it would be through a thorough argued defence of your case. Whereas, Americans tend to be pragmatic; they value ideas which are practical and useful with a stress on consequences. (Kenna and Lacy, 12)

Personal Styles- the French emphasise on courtesy and a relative amount of formality. Business is conducted slowly; you have to be patient and prepared to adhere strictly to protocol. They like to analyse every single detail of a proposal, regardless of how minute. On the other hand, meetings with the Americans tend to be extremely action oriented. They like to have an agenda and their main goal is to arrive at a decision.

Styles of Communication- Their style is direct, they make use of complex sentences while talking. They feel more comfortable talking in French because, if they speak English, they cannot use the language eclipses that they use while communicating in their language. They also appear very direct, because they are not afraid of asking probing questions. Discussions might also get heated and intense. You should have a carefully planned proposal that is properly organised and presented. They also make use of non-verbal styles of communication through body language and facial expressions. Americans usually have very spirited arguments, and there might be raised voices and even strong language.

Time Sensitivity- This is relatively low with the French, because French people are not very strict about time, and usually turn up a few minutes late. Americans follow the monochronic orientation to time strictly; they adhere strictly to time, like to schedule precise meeting and break times. And like to plan when a meeting begins and ends.

Emotionalism- This can be said to be neither high nor low, as the French do not show much emotion, they segregate their business and personal life. The Americans are more relaxed, and might break the ice with a few jokes, or laughter and personal questions.

Agreement form-They like to have a specific form of agreement and they like to go over details during the negotiation, when an agreement has been reached, they usually insist on it being formalised in a very precisely worded contract, with all the possibilities. They are more concerned with the deal being negotiated than developing any relationship. They use a hierarchical approach to agreements, meaning that decisions are usually made from the top of the company. In regard to the French decision making process, they start with a long range view of their purposes and place low priority on accommodation in short range decisions to reach objectives which seem of little consequence. As Americans tend to focus on short term, it is harder for them to see that there might be a design in French decisions. (Fisher, 31)Meetings in the US are usually brief and straight to the point, to foreigners; this might come across as abrupt. They usually just focus on a problem or item on the agenda.

Agreement Building process- They choose to begin agreeing in general principles then start to go over the details. It is best to avoid high pressure tactics. They will respond better to a lower key, logical presentation that effectively details the merits of the proposal. The French tend to perceive themselves as holding a special position in the international arena. "France is not simply another European country-it is France. The country has a mystique that is part of the French soul (Fisher,41) it's policy makers do not need to apologise for taking actions that seem to be strictly in France's self interest (Fisher,39).

Negotiating team organisation- Although the French are an individualistic set of people, they are still interested in having a negotiating team based on consensus. They are also impressed when the other team possess good debating skills that serve to show an intellectual grasp of the situation and all its ramifications.

Risk Taking- This survey showed the French as relatively high risk takers, probably due to their creativity and feeling of intellectual superiority.

The French place a strong emphasis on logic and rationality with stress on individual opinions. It is of utmost importance to be sharp witted, steady and reliable. One way communication is relatively acceptable (Hilthrop and Udall 1995).

Some other negotiation features of the French that might be wise to take into consideration before embarking on the journey are

Intellectual Style- the French are very intellectual and have an extremely high level of culture. They are also very creative. This might make them seem arrogant and intellectually superior during negotiations. "He (the French man) is wise with a wisdom based less on books, magazines and newspapers than on personal experience and a time honoured tradition passed down to him by earlier generations" (Siegfried,14).

Negotiations can become quite passionate, a good first hand experience of this was during a negotiation exercise re-enacted by the University of Brighton Msc Management students, between France and the United States that I was opportune to be an observer on. The completely different negotiating techniques were visible. At a point the negotiation was quite heated, with both teams challenging each other's credibility and intentions. The French however, refused to back down, and threw all manner of challenging and seemingly arrogant questions at the Americans. It ended with a member of the French team storming away from the scene in anger


For a negotiation to be successful, there are certain skills that the impending negotiators must possess or acquire. There are also some steps/prerequisites to be taken into consideration before hand:

Preparation- This is a very crucial step before entering any negotiation. Firstly, the team must be selected with utmost precision and care. In the preparation stage, the negotiators identify the issues that are going to be deliberated on, and develop the objectives for each of them it is wise to learn about the culture, traditions and norms of the people you are going to negotiate with. In any negotiation, the success potential increases as understanding increases.(Fisher and Ury 1983)You must be aware of your own and the opponents cultural biases and learn to set them aside (or at least take them into account) when faced with cultural groups. Awareness of cultural differences does not necessarily mean that you can overcome their effects; however, knowledge at least provides a chance to avoid some of the problems that result from cultural blindness. (Hilthrop and Udall1995).

Strategy-The negotiators need to adopt a style that will be best suited to the negotiation. Always choose the way that seems the best, however rough it may be. Custom will render it easy and agreeable (Pythagoras, c 500BC). There are different approaches that can be applied to a negotiation; they all depend on the direction the negotiation is taking.

According to Thomas and Kilmann (1974) these different approaches can be grouped into five distinct categories as follows:






Thomas (1977) identified the particular situation in which each of the styles works best

Collaboration- In this approach, conflict can be managed through maintaining relationships and ensuring that mutual goals are achieved. This approach is said to be best when, the issues involved are too important to be compromised, commitment is needed to make the solution work, maintaining or building relationships is important.

Compromising- This approach indicated that a win-win situation is inconceivable, the compromiser here adopts a stance that is neither winning or losing, but still respecting the goals and relationship of the other parties. This technique is dominated by persuasion and manipulation. This strategy is recommended when, there is an important relationship but one cannot afford to accommodate. Opponents of different power are committed to the same goals, only alternative without a situation, or when a suitable solution is needed under time pressure.

Accommodating- This is recommended, when you find out you are in the wrong, the issues involved are of more importance to the other party, you want to build a credibility for further issues, and when you wish to minimise losses when you are in a weaker position. Harmony is more important than the deal.

Controlling- this technique is best applied when a quick, decisive action is important, like in the case of an emergency. When you are sure you are right. When it is obvious, that, the other party will take advantage of co-operative behaviour.

Avoiding- This technique should be used when there are some other pressing issues to tackle and there is no possibility of achieving your objectives. More time is required to collect data. The potential of conflict outweighs the benefits. There are other people that can effectively resolve the conflict.

According to Hilthrop and Udall (1995), when negotiating with Achievement Oriented cultures like the US, it is important that someone in the negotiation team has adequate knowledge and experience to convince the other party that the proposal will work.

There should be mutual respect, and the needs of the other party to look competent should be respected. Failure to do that will most likely lead to resentment.

The use of professional titles and qualifications is recommended to showcase your personal achievements.

Natives from cultures with a strong need for uncertainty avoidance such as France, feel threatened by ambiguous or unknown situations. (Hilthrop and Udall 1995). They like facts and details to be presented to them in an orderly and detailed manner. When going into negotiations with The French, it is greatly advised to be fully prepared as they demand that all the necessary information and details to be readily available.

When going into negotiations with people from cultures like France that are high on Uncertainty Avoidance, it is wise to be aware of the strong desire and importance placed on rules and regulations. There is a strong desire for formality, appointments should be adhered to and meetings scheduled well in advance.

The French are also known to be hard bargainers. They generally have over the top opening expectations. Haggling is expected and an essential part of the game (Hilthrop and Udall 1995)

Listening- A survey in 1978 amongst members of the society of certified administrative managers showed conclusively that active listening was considered to be the most critical skill by far. A good negotiator should listen attentively all the time, by listening, loop holes and discrepancies might be detected.


While there are certain differences in negotiation style that are attributed to culture, much of what we explain in culture can probably be traced more accurately to an amalgamation of culture, situation, personality and interaction. But because we want to believe in the overwhelming importance of culture, negotiators tend to view behaviours through the prism of their stereotypical perceptions and biases (Rubin, 98)

The thought of negotiations across cultures at first glance might appear to be a daunting and challenging task. But if the impending negotiators, have a well mapped out agenda and strategy, for the negotiation, are very knowledgeable about the cause they are negotiating. And have researched and are properly equipped with knowledge about the culture, norms, mannerisms and characters of the people they are negotiating with, the negotiation should be relatively smooth. With the guide I have prepared for the American managers planning their trip to France, I believe I have covered most of the areas of importance to their negotiation meeting, such as the negotiating styles they could expect from the French, skills necessary for the negotiation to proceed smoothly devoid of dispute and misunderstanding stemming from cultural differences.