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Negotiating a contract dispute, across different cultures #1

We all know that you can write the best claim in the world, but if you can’t negotiate in a contract dispute situation and convince the other party to pay you, it’s been for nought! Negotiation skills are potentially more important than technical skills.

Accordingly, much has been written about the skills required to persuade and influence when in negotiation (dispute or otherwise) with clients, contractors, your boss or even your spouse. As difficult as this is, on international construction projects you can throw into the mix different cultures and this makes it even more complex and challenging.

When negotiating in a dispute situation with individuals from different cultures, possibly in the same meeting, there are certain factors to be aware of which will make you more likely to come out on top (and less likely to offend and isolate!) We regularly work on disputes on international projects and have navigated these choppy waters before. In fact, we were once involved in protracted negotiations that involved British, Lebanese, Greek, Swedish and German nationals. The difference in approaches was remarkable.

In this series of blogs, I will discuss the main cultural differences to look out for and how to work with them to be successful.

Time is of the essence – or is it?

It’s fair to say that there are two approaches to the issue of time with regards to pulling a meeting together, and the negotiation process. In Mediterranean and Latin cultures, as well as some Eastern and African cultures, time is much more flexible and overrides any schedule. That is not to say time is not important, but that more emphasis is put on building relationships and determining whether they wish to forge a long term partnership. So these meetings may have flexible start and end times (not taking lateness of any party personally or as being rude), breaks taken as and when, individuals may talk over each other and in these meetings, expect your colleagues to be comfortable with a lot of different information being exchanged and interspersed throughout.

On the other hand, typically European influenced cultures such as US, Germany, UK, Scandinavia, and also Japanese colleagues probably take a very different view. The preference and expectation will be for prompt meetings with specified start and end times; scheduled breaks; relying on an agenda to keep the meeting on track with itemised communications, and preferring to talk one at a time.

The main thing to remember whatever your penchant for time keeping is – don’t be offended or show irritation. What may seem rude to you is just the other person doing things the way they’re accustomed to. If you express negativity from the outset, that really isn’t a good footing for achieving a successful outcome. So do your homework, come prepared and be professional.

The key points to remember if you hope to successfully negotiate alongside these different styles and approaches will be covered in my final blog of this series.

Clare Bond

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