Negotiating claims across different cultural approaches – #2

Negotiating claims, we all know that you can write the best claim in the world, but if you can’t negotiate 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 negotiating claims 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.

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 in negotiating claims and disputes.

Non-verbal communication – do’s and don’ts

Firstly, the issue of eye contact can vary across cultures. Broadly speaking, in the UK, Europe and the US, we are encouraged to make eye contact in situations such as job interviews, business meetings and presentations as it is thought to be a sign of confidence, assertiveness and strength. We see it as a good way to make a positive impression when we meet people for the first time. In South America, eye contact is thought to be a sign that you are trustworthy – you have nothing to hide and a clear conscience so can look at a colleague directly. However, studies of the culture suggest that the Japanese are less comfortable with sustained eye contact, and it could be seen as being impolite. Japanese negotiators are known for their politeness, deference to those of a higher status and looking down is often preferred. Finally, Arab colleagues on the whole may find eye contact uncomfortable and this is especially the case when working with female associates, as well as males. Westerners may find this approach tricky but the key is to anticipate the different styles and be respectful of them.

Next to consider is physical contact and space. Space is all about territory and when in a negotiating situation, the last thing you want to do is annoy a colleague by standing/sitting so close that they feel uncomfortable and have to back away! Seating arrangements should therefore be given some thought in advance of a meeting, but another point to note around seating plans is that where you sit in some cultures can define who you are and your role in the “hierarchy” – some call it the “power distance.”

Touching in some situations is seen as a sign of openness and closeness, but in others it could cause offence. However, recoiling at the touch of a hand on the shoulder or even a hug, could be seen as a sign of untrustworthiness or dislike. Care should again be taken when working with men and women of different cultures.

So, lots to consider but my advice around non-verbal communication is to prepare, be respectful and react sensibly to whatever crops up.

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

Clare Bond

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