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Nonverbal Communication In Negotiations Cultural Studies Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Cultural Studies
Wordcount: 4118 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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Cultural specific studies have focused attention on cultural and communication practices in specific countries, while conflict resolution and negotiation studies have integrated intercultural communication in their theories. Studies have identified factors influencing intercultural business communication which include effects or emotions and non-verbal behaviour. The earliest of these comparative theoretical and applied studies reflected in the conditions existed in the early stages of globalization following world war two. During this period complex international business transactions could be channeled through fully bilingual specialists who provided translation and interpretation services, while simple communication exchanges such as obtaining and fulfilling sales orders could be processed through routine channels. These transactions did not impose the same communication requirements as do the interactive and intercultural communication channels of the present day of international business communication environment. Since 1960’s, language studies traditionally emphasized verbal and written communication, however in the recent times more research studies seriously began to consider what takes place without words in conversations, in instances were verbal and nonverbal communication meets (Hartley & Bruckham, 2000).

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The research would start by discussing problems of communicating across social boundaries and then define and discuss some of the concepts associated with non verbal miscommunication in cross cultural meetings and negotiation. Then it would also focus on both verbal and non-verbal communication factors and consider how much scope there is for ambiguity and interpretation. If it can be anticipated how other people will interpret to what we say and do, then our communication can be made more effective. We also need to bear in mind that communication is not just the transmission and reception of information. No matter how carefully we feel we have ‘encoded our message’, we need to be aware of all the factors which can influence how other people will interpret our behaviour. The research would also address how cultural factors affect cross-cultural communication and explain in bridging cultures, and some strategies they can use to overcome cross-cultural communication problems.

Nonverbal behaviours unintentional, beyond the words, can be interpreted by a receiver as having meaning. They either accompany verbal messages or are used independently of verbal messages. They may affirm and emphasize or negate and even contradict spoken messages. They are more likely to be used unconsciously and spontaneously because they are habitual and routine behaviours. There are seven key elements of Nonverbal Behaviour which include gestures, body moments, facial movements, eye contacts, postures, vocalics and haptics. Gestures, body moments, facial movement and eye contact are combined in the kinesics code, which vary culturally, also referred to as body language. The study of this caters to traditional linguistic principles to the parts of the body particularly the face, hands and arms or body as a whole. It also addresses posture in standing and sitting as well as with eye and facial expressions such as the arching of eyebrows or rolling of the eyes. Vocalics refers to all vocal activities other than verbal context, also called the paralanguage. Paralanguage may be expressed consciously or unconsciously and it includes the pitch, volume, and, in some cases, intonation of speech. Sometimes the definition is restricted to vocally-produced sounds. The role of Haptics focuses on touch as an element of communication and is very much a function of culture. It can vary from touch and the frequency and intensity, like many other roles of non verbal communication. The communication environment consists of physical environment and spatial environment. Secondly, there are the communicators’ physical characteristics like physique general attractiveness, height, clothes and other accessories.

Here I would wish to bring into focus an incident which I had observed on television. When Americans go for negotiation to Saudi Arabia, the female members accompanying the team would always wear a full body cover named ‘Abhaya’ (not ‘Burkha’). But recently when Indian Prime Minister Dr.Manmohan Singh visited Saudi Arabia, Mrs.Manmohan Singh who accompanied him did not wear that. So looking at this incidence and by carefully observing, it can be said that there was a wrong cultural assumption from the Indian think tanks whereas even Mrs. Obama and Mrs. Clinton, did wear them during their respective visits. By wearing them is like respecting the feeling of Saudi’s, so here it’s the miscommunication made and the body language is like ‘I don’t care attitude’, the opposite party can interpret it in that way. India is going there and it’s equally important for both countries, especially more for India, by doing this India is putting them in a wrong position right at the beginning itself.

An another instance is when I was watching NDTV, a popular Indian news channel, there was a discussion with two leading political parties of India namely UPA and Left, which also included prominent news reporters. The discussion was regarding the past performance of the newly elected government. Usually a discussion of this kind can heat up at any time without warnings because that’s how the Indian political scenario works. As expected, there was a hot exchange of words between the representatives of the parties who were sitting in close proximity. It was surprising to note that the opposite party’s gesture by touching the hand of the other party member, couple of times to ease the tension. In Indian culture, this gesture is commonly used in easing tensed situation and making the opposite person calm during a meeting or discussion. A soft touch in the hand is considered as a humanitarian way of showing that there is no intension to start a fight (usually these gestures can be seen done my males) thereby avoiding the situation to get worse. This happens between people of Indian origin and in an Indian context; understanding and acting these small gestures can win a situation or even stabilize it. But in general, Asian cultures tend to discourage touching outside of intimate situations whereas certain other cultures like US allow cross-gender touching while same-gender is less acceptable. These rules change in Japan, where women are frequently seen holding hands but not men. In the Mediterranean, it is common to see men holding hands or touching in public but not women. So an awareness of these local norms is important and would help negotiators for better cross cultural negotiations.

The use of space is called proxemics, and the use of time is chronemics. Environment involves the communicative value of the physical space. Unconsciously, we all keep a comfortable distance around us when we interact with other people. This distance has had several names over the years, including “personal space,” “interpersonal distance,” “comfort zone,” and “body bubble.” This space between us and another person forms invisible walls that define how comfortable we feel at various distances from other people. Business people, for example, assume significant meaning about desk size; it’s commonly assumed that the important people of companies occupy the top most floors of the company. Artifacts likewise is connected with communicative aspect of objects visible in a room such as art or possessions, these may be personal indicative of status of revealing lifestyle. In some societies much meaning is presumed by one’s choice of automobile. Artifacts certainly play a role in cultural significance. For instance in many Western countries, pet shave great emotional significance; among many Arabs rugs are prestigious. It should be further emphasized that these codes do not usually function independently or sequentially, rather they work simultaneously. Moreover, nonverbal behaviour is always about sending messages. We cannot communicate without using them even though at times these messages are ambiguous. This wide range of nonverbal behaviour serves various functions in all face-to-face encounters (Gesteland, 2002).

For instance at a company’s important social meeting, the general manager is introduced to several new employees whom he has not met. Having greeted them with a dominant handshake, he stands at the social distance from the new employees. Knapp & Hall (1997) claim that leaders and dominant personalities tend to also choose specific seats but seating position also can determine one’s role in a group. Johnson (1993) says that choosing where to sit even if it means moving a chair or even deciding whether to sit, is significant. Anderson (1993) states that leaders and powerful people take up more space than others do. By taking up more space, they appear to be taking charge. Conversely, after shaking hands with the boss, the new employees take full or partial arm-fold gestures because of their apprehension about being in the presence of the company’s top man. Both the general manager and the new employees feel comfortable with their respective gestures as each, is signaling his status relative to the other. A study conducted in the United States brought to light that, in more than 93 percent, the messages is transmitted by the speaker’s tone of voice and facial expressions; only 7 percent of the person’s attitude was conveyed by words. Probably it’s a fact that we express our emotions and attitudes more nonverbally than verbally. There are however nonverbal differences across cultures that may be a source of confusion for foreigners. For example, expression of sadness, in culture such as the Arab, grief is expressed openly but this is just the opposite in the case of other cultures like the Asian. Here the general belief is that it is unacceptable to show emotion openly, whether its sadness, happiness or pain.

Negotiation is “a broad conflict management process involving discussions between and among individuals who are interdependent and need to come together for a decision or course of action; frequently associated with the need to compromise effectively” (Shockley-Zalabak, 1988, p. 247). Negotiation consists of two distinct processes: creating value and claiming value. Creating value is a cooperative process whereby the parties in the negotiation seek to realize the full potential benefit of the relationship whereas claiming value is essentially a competitive process. The key to creating value is finding interests that the parties have in common or that complement each other, then reconciling and expanding upon these interests to create a positive situation. Parties at the negotiating table are interdependent and their goals are locked together. A seller cannot exist without a buyer. The purpose of a negotiation is a joint decision-making process through which the parties create a mutually acceptable settlement. The objective is to pursue a win-win situation for both parties. Sun Tzu once wrote: “Know your enemy and know yourself and you can fight a hundred battles without disaster”. It is perhaps a bit extreme to compare a business meeting to a battle and a business partner to an enemy but the main principle still holds. In order to be reliably successful in business you must understand both yourself and your partner. This understanding will enable you realize what makes your corresponding person “tick”, and thus understand how he is likely to react in a given situation. In order to gain the full advantage of this knowledge, it is also necessary to understand oneself, both so that one can accurately grasp in what areas the other party is similar or dissimilar, and in order to accurately see how your counterpart is likely to view you. Hill (1998) mentions cross-cultural literacy, and defines it as “an understanding of how cultural differences both across and within nations can affect the way in which business is practiced” (1998:66)

If we consider the fact that negotiating with our fellow citizen is not an easy task due to many individual differences, it would be reasonable to suggest that negotiating in a cross cultural setting with people from different cultural boundaries may be even more difficult. The way we perceive and create our own reality may be completely different to our counterpart’s way of thinking, behaving and feeling. It’s also a fact that gaining knowledge of different languages is not enough to face and solve the problem. Language is a cluster of codes used in communication which, if not shared effectively, can act as a barrier to establish credibility and trust. Nations tend to have a national character that influences the type of goals and process the society pursues in negotiations. This is why specifying and understanding cultural differences is vital in order to perform successfully in inter-cultural communication. As we better understand that our partners may see things differently, we will be less likely to make negative assumptions and more likely to make progress during meetings and cross cultural negotiations (Zieba, 2009).

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Japanese negotiators are known for their politeness, their emphasis on establishing relationships and their indirect use of power. Japanese concern with face and face-saving is one reason that politeness is so important and confrontation is avoided. They tend to use power in muted, indirect ways consistent with their preference for harmony and calm. In comparative studies, Japanese negotiators were found to disclose considerably less about themselves and their goals than French or American counterparts. Silence and pauses in conversations are normal. Two can strategically use breaks in conversational flows even in situations where they could process information faster and send messages sooner. In essence the period of silence provide a twofold advantage of reducing the possibility of introducing unproductive and destructive commends into conversations and providing breaks for reflection, designation of ideas and planning of communication strategy and tactics during negotiations. These are consistent with the norms of Chinese and Japanese, however westerners might have discomfort in the same situations. They are very formal and polite and place great importance on proper protocol. They are also concerned with proper etiquette. British negotiation behaviour is characterized by the soft sell and their culture is relatively high in context. Americans usually like to get down to business quickly in a meeting which may lead to people from Chinese and Japanese cultures being offended. In spite of that, the discussion mostly proceeds at a much slower pace than US business people are accustomed. The Chinese uses high context speech and therefore use a lot of non-verbal cues to communicate. They may use feelings of guilt, shame and obligation to get certain kinds of concessions whereas Americans use less risk taking tactics to misrepresent in order to gain more information. In general, most Westerners expect a prompt answer when they make a statement or ask a question rather than long pauses and silence (Weiss, 1992).

This form of Kinesic messages shows that even if one keeps silent, one is still conveying messages. Knapp & Hall (1997, p. 332) state that “The face may be the basis for judging another person’s personality and that it can (and does) provide information other than one’s emotional state.” They found that how something is said is often more important than what is being said. In addition, Anderson (1993) suggests that people perceived as powerful, shift their position occasionally, making themselves appear in charge. However, the rise in the global business trend and cross cultural meetings has paved way for the Chinese and Japanese professionals in doing business with the West with relative ease and have shown tendency to modify their behaviours to accommodate west. Nonetheless, doing business in Japan necessitates preparing oneself by understanding areas such as business culture, business etiquette, and negotiation & meeting protocols. For instance, bowing your head is an integral part of Japanese culture. It is used for greeting at beginning and end of the meetings to show gratitude or used in other occasions to express sympathy or to apologies but a Westerner would not be expected to bow and will most likely be greeted with a handshake combined with a slight nod of the head (Nelda Spinks 1997). The French, expect everyone to behave as they do when doing business which includes speaking their language. Negotiations are likely to be in French unless they occur outside France. The French enjoy conversation for the sake of conversation but they are also very pragmatic about details of the proposed agreement during negotiations. They are very much individualists and have a sense of pride that is sometimes interpreted as supremacy. They follow their own logic, referred to as “Cartesian” logic, when negotiating. These logics are based on principles previously established. It proceeds from what is known, in point-by-point fashion, until agreement is reached. Protocol, manners, status, education, family, and individual accomplishments are keys to success when dealing with the French. The French prefer detailed, firm contracts. They enjoy conflict and debate and will interrupt even the opening presentations with arguments of little or no relevance (Moran and Stripp, 1991).

It is widely acknowledged fact that people from different countries tend to communicate in different ways. We argue that these differences are more related to different communication cultures than other differences. Being aware of these differences usually leads to better comprehension, fewer misunderstandings and to mutual respect along with the prospects of success and benefits in negotiations and cross cultural meetings (Janosik, 1991). The key to successful nonverbal cross-cultural communication is that one must be experienced, motivated, knowledgeable, skilled and competent communicator in the global marketplace. These factors are interrelated and a deficiency in one would impacts at least one of the other factors. The more the deficiency is reduced there is more likelihood of achieving a high level of cross-cultural communication. Spitzberg (1991) points out in his model of interpersonal communication competency that, there is an additive effect of these factors resulting in “communication satisfaction, perceived confirmation, and conversational appropriateness and effectiveness” (p. 22).

However these may not be true in all cases. For example, I would like to point out a particular instance from my personal experience wherein a subject becomes more important or more influencing factor in a face to face space negotiation, the subject is something slightly different than a pure technical one. If I am trying to create a thinking process or an idea or an ideology, I would like to spread that and make others understand, which is really important. So my aim would be to make others understand my thinking process, and to do that, I better do my homework properly and know exactly what others think, hence this topic is more valid in such context. When the negotiation is highly technical then all these don’t make much difference because technical things are tangible. For example, if we say we would like to export one ship of rice to Kenya, the quantity of rice that can go to that ship load is tangible and the product in talk is also tangible as we can specify the type of rice. Here, the negotiation is only about the final loading price for that particular merchant, so whatever language we talk (say I know everything about Kenya, I have hired a secretary for that and I have done everything for that) it work only if its feasible for me hence it’s pure technical. TATA motors was trying to sell their cars and trucks in Africa region but finally succeeded only in selling trucks because the tertian needed in that region is almost same as that of the Indian region. So there the buyer was only interested in the efficiency of the truck and the total maintenance cost, rest all was of least importance. For instance, consider an advertisement of any car in the daily, they are also communicating. We can see that some of these advertisement are related to festive moods like Easter so by means of picture, it is trying to relate us to that particular festival which helps us to get connect faster and thereby leading to buy the content. So here the language they use is a visual one.

Another example is say early morning a person is ready to go for negotiation and finds that he has forgotten to take the thoughts and has the habit of sweating (sweating here indicates nervousness in a sense). Now imaging the condition of that person, he going to attend a important meeting, he will be biased because of the sweat and his body language would be completely wrong because of this irritation factor which is definitely going to affect his meeting. His conversation would be influenced by this irritation factor and there is a possibility that other members might misunderstand his body language or it could even be medical problem or a digestion problem or it could be something like a pillow given in the hotel. Instead of a soft pillow the person would have got a hard one and say that person has a spontaliaties problem, he would have a very bad night of sleep and this would reflect in his gestures. So it’s always not correct to say that one can understand and interpret the body language rightly, even if he has enormous experience and skills relating to it, as according to the above example, under such circumstances it would be very difficult to communicate in proper body language and even verbally may not be saying what he intended to say. Sometimes persons would be forced to do things they are not aware of because of various other factors related to it. It is not a pure science where oxygen and hydrogen combined together gives water, in any instance. In a positive sense, everything could hype a person up like the food that he had last night or the drink that he had or the company that he had, so there again he is not projecting his real self. The next day when he goes for a negotiation his spirits are high which also could be misread and misinterpreted by the opposite party. The opposite party would think that the person is much interested in the business or negotiation but the reaction would only come later, seeing him in high spirit, the opposite party would start in a entirely different way from what he had prepared earlier.

As human beings, we act on the basis of our perceptions and beliefs. So if we have a particular view of human communication, then we will act on that view. If we have a faulty view, then our behaviour may cause problems. The behaviour of humans is bundled up by different complex set of factors from individual personality, the social context their respective cultural values. Negotiating behaviour can vary depending upon various other aspects from the age of the participant, class, religion and character, its complexity gives nuanced explanations (Hartley & Bruckham, 2000). This is a classical example to show how different cross cultural non verbal signals are misread, the cost of it being delays and missed opportunities. This case comes during the early days when the American diplomats attended a meeting of US -China reconciliation. Cohen (1991) points out that “U.S. observers entirely missed the most significant Chinese signal of reconciliation of all in the 1970-71 periods.” In October 1970, Chairman Mao invited an American author and journalist to stand next to him at the Gate of Heavenly Peace. While this gesture seems obscure to American diplomats and hence they did not respond to it, the symbolism was clear to the Chinese, who expected a significant response. These gaps in nonverbal gestures created friction among these two nations, if addressed in its rightful instance could have brought out fruitful results beneficial to both nations.


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