Do expats in Myanmar have their Achilles heel? Read the “astonishing story” of intercultural mistakes that nearly cost an expat’s job!
Article by Hana Bui in Today Tourism Magazine, Nov, 2019.
How to overcome expats’ Achilles heel in Myanmar?
The ancient Greek mythology has it that Achilles was made invulnerable. His mother dipped him into the river Styx in the Underworld containing special power. Yes, he became invulnerable everywhere, but at his heel where his mother held him. An Achilles heel is a weakness in spite of overall strength, which can lead to downfall.
Do expats in Myanmar have their Achilles heel?
No one has only strengths without weakness. Expats in Myanmar are not exceptions. They have actually lots of strengths when working in a newly open country where things are mostly in the beginning phase of development like Myanmar. Their strengths include advanced education and knowledge, extensive international experience and vision, multiple networks, etc. They therefore usually bring with them great expectations about reaping fabulous success in the Golden Land.
So what is their Achilles heel?
Nonetheless, they have often found lots of oddities, quirks, idiosyncrasies, and challenges working here. These challenges tend to occur when working with Burmese people due to cultural differences. “Cross-cultural leadership” is the biggest management challenge of expats working overseas, according to The Economist.
Thus their Achilles heel lies in the cultural conflicts – for many cases the cultural shock is inevitable!. “What is Different is Dangerous”, states Geert Hofstede(the leading scholar in Intercultural Theories).
The intercultural mistakes nearly cost an expat’s job!
A European veteran hotelier who has lead lots of 5-star hotels setting up and operations shared the story which nearly cost his job (his words). In order to foster a relationship with his local business partner, he once eagerly invited him to the kitchen at a Michelin-starred restaurant in a 5-star hotel. It would be a great honor for his guest at home to be treated that way!
However, it turned out to be a painful experience! For his Myanmar guest felt displ-eased, even angry and then became distant to the expat. Their relationships grew weird and bad.
Trying hard to find out the causes of these sudden negative changes in his local partner’s behaviors, eventually, after lots of struggles and efforts, he discovered the truth. His local business partner felt offended, if not insulted, to be invited to have food in a kitchen. It is not the way a high profile person is honored in Myanmar! Not sure how much reputable Michelin restaurant is perceived by him, but he felt very bad and even humiliated.
“The intercultural mistakes nearly cost me my job!” (He commented)
How to overcome the expats’ Achilles heel?
There are various ways to work it out. But the first significant step is to be aware of their own cultural background. (Knowing thyself is the beginning of all wisdom – Aristotle and Lao Dzu). The second awareness is of Myanmar culture. The cultural conflict – their biggest challenge or their Achilles heel, thus, is the third crucial awareness. For example, if an expat comes from a country of low hierarchy level, he would expect his subordinates to give honest feedback once being asked. Then in Myanmar, a country with hierarchy culture, subordinates are not comfortable to give feedbacks to his supervisors being afraid of considering “disrespectful” to his superior. Then, cultural conflict is possible while they work together.
Understanding this would lead to finding effective solutions to minimize this dreadful challenge of cultural conflicts. For example, analyzing from one’s own experience, learning from others’ expats’ experience, talking with HR Managers, attending intercultural seminars, workshops, reading books of Myanmar working culture, etc. The decisive factor lies in the outcome versus the expense in term of time and money. Which option would be the optimum – the one that can be learned fast and applied effectively, at a reasonable cost?
In many cases, decent intercultural training is a practical and saving solution. But it also depends on how long an expat has worked in Myanmar. The newcomer expats get the best benefits from intercultural workshop though. As one is fresh, professional intercultural training can help him save months and years of making intercultural mistakes that diminish his performance, without knowing it!. At the same time, his company or organization saves lots of money and time, too. They have in fact invested hugely in order to afford hiring an expat.
For expats who have lived in Myanmar for years, the other ways may be helpful as well.
In any cases, do not fall because of your Achilles heel! It is curable!
Hana Bui is an intercultural trainer and best-selling author. Her book “When Global Meets Local – How Expatriates Can Succeed in Myanmar” is the first-time guidebook for expats on how to work well with local colleagues. Hana can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
In the following article I would like to introduce the concept of the “Get-Ready Mindset”, explaining the importance of an adequate preparation both on self-analysis and on the analysis of other people’s way of thinking and behaviours.
It is not easy explaining in a few words what the Get-Ready Mindset is, but I will try to do so by using a metaphor: it is the preparation work that boxers, karateka, or kickboxers do before facing an important match.
This preparation consists of studying the opponent’s moves, analysing the videos of his/her fights and any possible material concerning him/her, such as what fighting styles he/she may know, his/her masters, his/her preferences, his/her previous defeats , who defeated him/her and how, what are his/her winning strokes, with whom he/she trains, etc.. It includes studying his/her resume, his/her history and the way he/she moves, searching for his/her strengths and weaknesses.
After having analysed the “other”, it’s time to analyseourselves:
what are my strengths?
What can I do to improve myself?
Is improving a certain aspect of myself useful or useless?
On what specific development should I focus for that meeting? And how do I convert all this into a training plan?
We then proceed with building specific combat strategies and techniques. We create a road map, test the progresses made and the state of preparation on the ring with sparring partners.
This training is related both to fundamental skills (strength, endurance, speed) and to specific techniques. No detail must be overlooked.
This preparation combines strategy with hard daily gym training, made up of sweat and fatigue, so as to automate the techniques that are going to be used in the match. The best schools do not disregard athletes’ mental training, but they work on focusing and relaxation techniques and on the search for the most profitable mental state, which keeps away the “background mental noises” allowing athletes to be at their best.
In fact, in every meeting, as I have been able to highlight in the intercultural negotiation field, it is important to know how to keep the background mental noises out of the arena, the retro-thoughts that can weaken us, making us lose tactical clarity of mind and situational awareness (Mental Noise Theory).
In companies, as well as in sports, one must not rely on destiny or on the hope of being lucky, but on preparation, because that is the only way to strengthen ourselves, to rise to the challenge and to be able to face it.
And again, a lot of sparring, simulation and training activities must be combined with the indispensable courage that facing challenges that can be lost takes.
Sales and negotiation in complex environments require specific trainable skills: strategic analysis and communication psychology. In other words, high-level skills. Nothing that can be stereotyped or memorized.
Just as the fighter prepares himself/herself in the gym, the negotiator can prepare himself/herself through role-playing and simulations. Just as the fighter analyses his/her opponent, mapping his/her strengths and weaknesses, companies can do the same to be ready for strategic meetings.
We will explore each of these topics in detail. Effective preparation for strategic sales and complex negotiations concerns some very important points:
The inner will to adopt a consultative approach, with all its consequences: consultancy behaviours, an analytic attitude and a strong psychological and communicational training that can support one’s methods and actions;
the self-knowledge: the knowledge of one’s strengths and weaknesses, combined with the full awareness of the value mix that a person, or a company, can create for customers or stakeholders, with whom they must deal;
the knowledge of “others”: their vulnerabilities, their decision-making mechanisms, their balances and imbalances, their dissonances, the problems that can create a state of need or necessity in them, the drives and tensions capable of triggering them to purchase, while bringing us to the positive closing of a negotiation;
the spaces, options and ways of relating that lead to success, the traps that can cause our failure, the pitfalls, the lines of action and the sense of the “journey”, that must be undertaken to reach the goal by building the right path, step by step.
Today’s article will focus on intercultural leadership. Starting from the definition of the term, we will then proceed with listing and describing the problems that may arise in an intercultural team and the skills that every leader must possess if he/she wants to work in a cross-cultural environment.
First of all, I would like to use the definition from the website 3blmedia.com to explain the differences between cross-cultural leadership, multicultural leadership and intercultural leadership:
“Cross-cultural, multicultural, intercultural…these terms are often used interchangeably yet have finely nuanced distinctions. For a leader, the cross-cultural context means literally crossing cultures to do business, provide service, or vacation in another culture. Multicultural refers to multiple cultures existing in a geographic place or organization, each separate and distinct. Intercultural refers to the act of understanding the values and beliefs of a culture and being able to communicate and collaborate with people across multiple cultures. Interculturalism has as its goal innovation, inclusion, and friendship. Intercultural ism implies interaction.” (1)
let’s now continue with Wikipedia’s explanation of intercultural leadership:
“Intercultural leadership has been developed to understand leaders who work in the newly globalized market. Today’s international organizations require leaders who can adjust to different environments quickly and work with partners and employees of other cultures”. (2)
In other words, an intercultural leader must be able to:
manage people from different cultures with cultural respect and an understanding attitude;
achieve a common goal with his/her multicultural team.
Obviously, the problems that may arise in these cross-cultural contexts are numerous, for example:
intercultural differences in verbal and non-verbal communication;
communicative difficulties in the decision-making process, due to different cultural preferences for length of turns, pauses between turns, simultaneous talk, or discrete turns;
poor group cohesion;
Possible intercultural leadership challenges can be related to:
different cultural view of leaders’ behaviours: cultures accept different leadership behaviours and have different opinions about what can be considered appropriate and inappropriate.
Power paradox arousal: one part of the team questions the legitimacy and authority of the leader based on his leadership style.
Different culturally-based leadership expectations: members of multicultural team hold different culturally-based leadership expectations and prefer different leadership styles.
Team members’ culturally different reactions to leadership: team members from different cultures react differently towards the leader, based on the leader’s leadership style and on how a leader approaches them as team members. (3)
To overcome all this, intercultural communication skills are needed.
In fact, Intercultural management is more than just communicating, working and leading people across cultures. It is about interacting in a conscious and mindful way and it involves:
the readiness to recognize our own cultural conditionings and to discover how we came to believe and see things the way we do. This helps us to realize and accept that our own way to see and judge things is just one among many;
learning about the other person’s culture, including history, economy, political situation and all those aspects that help us understand the underlying reasons for someone’s behaviour, beyond our personal assumptions and values. This can provide a totally new perspective on a person or situation;
the ability to reflect on how our behaviour may be perceived, interpreted and judged by someone from a different culture, as well as the maturity to recognize how we may be unintentionally contributing to a problem (and how we can contribute to solving it);
the ability to adapt our behaviour in order to find a common ground with the people we work with, valuing cultural differences and co-creating new and better ways to do things. (4)
To conclude, in order to become global leaders, we cannot just learn how to manage a team or how to be charismatic, because that’s not sufficient. We are all living in a new globalized world, where everyone is forced to interact with many culturally different people, people with different opinions, values and beliefs, people that possess a different world view. All these people must work together to achieve greater results and only an intercultural leader, not a common manager, can help them do that.
Let’s continue talking about emotion management, this time by focusing on emotional dragging and on those techniques used to reduce emotional stress in negotiations.
The Risk of Emotional Dragging during Negotiations
By emotional dragging we mean a situation in which an emotion, apparently well managed and removed, reappears in other forms in subsequent moments and negatively affects the outcome of a negotiation.
This can happen (1) within the same negotiation session, affecting subjects other than those who have generated a negative emotional impact, but also (2) between different sessions, carrying those negative states from one meeting to another.
The intra-session dragging occurs more frequently than it is thought on a conscious level. A classic case is that of withheld anger towards one of the interlocutors, which is then projected towards another interlocutor present, in a modified, attenuated or strengthened form. Let’s look at the following case, an uncensored original transcript about the emotional experience of a negotiation meeting:
We had been at the table for about twenty minutes and we had just gotten to the heart of the matter. After various pleasantries (chat about the weather, about the coffee from the machine, etc.) we began to discuss the merits and here he comes, he sat down, he remained silent for a little bit, but then he started talking about atomic bullshits. I asked if I could have the pleasure of knowing his role in the project, and he said that he had a role in all projects, and he always wanted to see who entered and left his company. Concerning the project, he said that he had nothing to do with it, but he was supervising it a little. Basically, he came to say that he “kept his boys at bay”, so that they did not mess things up badly. I’ll put it another way: he had come to mark his territory like a dog pissing on trees to say that that tree belonged to him. Practically, he entered the meeting and pissed on those present, on his collaborators and on outsiders, me included, to make clear that this was his territory. I had just entered, I didn’t know anyone, I was an outsider, and at first, I was disappointed. Then I thought that I had already seen a lot of assholes like these around the companies, and I shouldn’t get too caught up, I had to go straight on my way, which was to bring home the signed contract and nothing more. if I had met him on the street, I would have hit him with the car, but not there, otherwise I would have ruined everything.
I kept letting him piss on my head for a while, but then, at some point, I contradicted him not in a strong way, but vaguely, just to make him understand that I was an expert and that he could not say whatever he wanted about certain topics without knowing a shit. However, it is a fact that he entered and left the meeting, doing what he wanted, answering his cell phone, calling people during the meeting and working there, in short, he wanted to look cool, perhaps to show that, there, he could do everything. After a while he went out and did not come back. At that moment I thought “he is dead, he is gone, finally, he will never come back”. At the end of the meeting, he was not there yet. We tried to sum up what was said during the day and I said something like this: “yes, we can certainly carry out a good project, the important thing is to keep the cheap company policy out of it. I am a kind of person that is not afraid of saying if there is a problem and does not pretend that nothing has happened just because it is uncomfortable to let it out”. Let’s take one thing into account: I was in the worst place on planet to say something like that. I should have pulled it out after being their supplier, after finding some ally, not there, at the first meeting. And now I realize that, as I was telling them that, I was squinting, looking like Clint Eastwood ready to shoot someone. Now I’m aware that I still had a lot of anger inside me, letting that asshole piss on me had bothered me, and I was throwing this anger back on others, on his collaborators. Then I can tell you that, even during the evening, at home, I was irritated, I had a hard time falling asleep, I couldn’t bear the idea that an ignorant recommended asshole had pissed on my head like that.
Dragging between Sessions
The dragging between sessions is caused by negative experiences related to previous relationships with the same subject or with the same category of subjects. We may have had unpleasant experiences with some people of a specific category and associate these experiences to the entire category, entering the negotiation with a wrong disposition.
Already formed stereotypes must be used with caution. Above all, it is essential to learn how to clean one’s own mind from negative attitudes resulting from previous sessions, so as to enter the negotiation with a free and open mind.
Dragging between Emotional States of Personal Life and Professional Situations
Personal life inevitably generates emotional experiences.
Relationships with friends, family, relatives, as well as events experienced outside the work environment invariably have an impact on the person. Some individuals are good at masking what happens in their personal life (especially negative experiences), but disguising may not be the best strategy.
The most advanced techniques on a professional level provide – for those in need of a pressing negotiation and for those who negotiate at a high level – for the use of professional counselling and coaching tools, that can support the subject in elaborating the facts of personal and professional life, harmoniously integrating personal experience and managerial life.
We cannot pretend that a manager, who has just experienced a family or professional trauma, can go to work as nothing has happened and be equally productive. Illnesses, marriage problems, difficulties with children, etc., reduce concentration and the available mental energy.
At the same time, on the opposite level, it is possible to learn to feed on the positive emotions that private life can offer and absorb these energies to nourish the professional level.
It can be said that one of the most underestimated issues of today concerning management is the energetic and motivational condition of the subject; managers, as well as collaborators must be seen as “holistic beings” who live both a psychological and physical life.
Intercultural negotiation can create emotional turbulence and high emotional distress. Negotiation itself (intracultural negotiation too) is a phenomenon that has a deep impact on the person’s energy systems. The addition of the strong intercultural variable increases the cognitive cost of attention and processing, the likelihood of misunderstanding, break and repair.
It is therefore on the energy level that managers must be helped to find and maintain a high, positive condition, capable of providing them with the necessary support for intercultural negotiation challenges.
Techniques to Manage and Reduce Emotional Stress in Negotiation
Several strategies are used in the ALM method to manage emotional stress in negotiations.
Autogenic and meditative training techniques (passive techniques) and other relaxation techniques (physical dissipation, sports, active techniques) are extremely useful for generating a good emotional predisposition in the negotiator, especially if practiced the same day, before the negotiation session.
In the immediate future, the separation between personal emotional experiences and professional time can be helped by specific relaxation techniques, while at advanced levels and in the long term, turning to professional coaching and managerial counselling can be more productive, because they help managers learn to focus both on lifestyle elements (lifestyle training) and on emotional management techniques.
Usable techniques are:
conceptual preparation and desk-work strategies: cultural analysis, latent cultural objections analysis, objections management preparation;
experiential preparation strategies: situational role playing used to refine and activate motor and conversational patterns, to create readiness in conversational moves and to create self-confidence;
emotional preparation and emotional reorganization strategies: relaxation techniques, autogenic training, focusing and meditation;
physical techniques of bio-energetic recharge: doing physical work to remove stress through specific physical exercise;
disidentification techniques, such as those proposed by Assoagioli in Psychosynthesis, which can help individuals to distance themselves emotionally from their current experience, as if it were something happening to others, that cannot affect them;
cognitive restructuring techniques: for example, moving from the concept of “negotiation as a confrontation” to “negotiation as a helping relationship” (helping the other party to understand something or to achieve a goal);
post-negotiation debriefing techniques, that help individuals dissolve negotiation stress, rework it and use it to grow rather than letting it block them, forcing them being conceptually and emotionally committed or making them feel inadequate to face new goals and challenges.
In the following 2 articles we are going to talk about emotion management in intercultural negotiation, because beign able to not lose control over one’s own emotions means beign able to negotiate smoothly.
The Mental Noise Theory
The Mental Noise Theory highlights that people who are irritated or who experience negative emotions have greater difficulties in listening and processing information.
“Mental noise” can reduce by 80% the ability to understand and process communication.
Among the reasons that lead to a reduction, up to 20%, in communication efficiency, there are:
traumas caused by previous experiences;
competing agendas (priorities);
emotional excess (activation excess);
poor sense of self-efficacy and assertiveness.
The Awareness of One’s Own Emotional Predispositions
According to Schein, to negotiate or work positively, it is necessary to identify one’s emotional predisposition.
Schein highlights this dynamic within the consultancy process (consultant-client relationship) but it can also be extended to all dynamics of power management within groups, as in the case of negotiations:
If, due to my nature, I’m predisposed to respond to certain types of facts with certain types of emotional reaction, I must be aware of this predisposition to judge the degree of its suitability in specific situations. For example, if I tend to get defensive and angry every time a customer stands up to me or tells me I’m wrong, I have to recognize the existence of this tendency and learn to control myself or manage my emotions in the best possible way, especially if, in my judgment, a dispute with the client would not be productive for the purposes of the consulting process. However, it is not always wrong to be defensive or angry. Sometimes it is indeed the most adequate reaction, but in order to choose and decide the best way to deal with the situation it is necessary to know one’s predispositions…
As it is evident, the direction given by Schein is not that of absolute emotional repression, but of conscious management.
Communication Ecology and Emotional Leadership
The ecology of communication represents a complex sensory stimulus (meant as a set of visual, verbal, tactile, olfactory, gustatory, kinesthetic inputs). Each element that reaches the perceptive system of the subject can generate emotions (strong or weak, central or peripheral).
All sensory stimuli activated during the participation in a negotiation, can therefore activate emotions.
We constantly live inside specific emotional areas or emotional experiences, jumping from an emotion to another, sometimes quickly, other times slowly.
Negotiation meetings and negotiation activities are moments of strong emotional activation, because certain factors are involved, such as our personal interests, the interests of the role we represent, the company’s interests, but also our own “face” and image, towards ourselves (self-esteem) and towards others.
The negotiation outcome – positive or negative – can affect one’s personal history, self-confidence, sense of self-efficacy.
These emotional factors are generally amplified in intercultural negotiation, in which further dimensions can come into play, such as:
Communication Apprehension (or communication anxiety) amplified by intercultural encounters;
ethnocentrism, the consideration that one’s own culture is superior and the difficulty of accepting opinions from different cultures;
the IWTC (intercultural willingness to communicate), meant as a general attitude or predisposition (positive or negative) towards the idea of meeting people from different cultures.
Due to various phenomena, it becomes difficult to put into practice a conscious, rational management of emotions, that can help them emerge from our subconscious and unconscious, in order to be able to “deal with them”, reacting appropriately.
The Relationship between Emotions, Intercultural Communication and Teamwork Performance
How important are emotions in affecting performance? In the ALM method, it is strongly highlighted that the emotional experience of a group is one of the most important factors for obtaining lasting and effective performances.
Even a temporary group, made up of people who negotiate for a limited time, becomes a team for that period of time, a grouping of people who try to achieve results, each for themselves (in the most backward models) or with high mutual satisfaction, in more advanced win-win models.
The importance of emotional experiences in intercultural groups is also highlighted in the most extreme settings, such as in spatial multicultural crews. Space mission planning and management changes dramatically when teams are made up of people from different countries and cultures.
Although united by a passion and by a profession, the different experiences and acculturation backgrounds can lead team-members to collide in confined environments, as soon as these differences begin to come out.
Several studies examine the problem, to better understand the influence and management of cultural differences between crew members and technical-scientific teams who will work and live in space in the future. These studies therefore refer to the research on intercultural effectiveness on Earth; they also deal with how to improve selection/evaluation procedures, intercultural training, monitoring and support, and astronauts’ experiences debriefing.
If we look at the intercultural dynamics in progress, being locked up in a room to “make a negotiation work” is not very different from being locked up in a spaceship with the task of making it work.
During manoeuvres (physical or conversational), a multiplicity of emotional experiences may emerge (anger, disappointment, or even simple annoyance) which, after stratifying, can lead to a relationship breakdown and to operations malfunctions.
It’s not just about big choices, but sometimes it’s about behavioural micro-details, simple gestures. Small secondary elements that do not create disturbances within a culture, but can be unpleasant when judged by a different culture.
Recognizing emotions is therefore essential for the negotiation performance.
Let’s conclude the topics of status and status anxiety, at first explaining how the negotiator can gain power and bargaining strenght during a negotiation and secondly, how status anxiety can arise in contracts negotiations.
Knowing how to deal with new people and companies, that often have large dimensions and a high economic and political power, means knowing how to propose one’s own value as a partner (sale of the global image of the company, rather than the simple sale of a product) and this represents something totally new for many companies, a difficult horizon.
Especially for SMEs, it is difficult to negotiate on an intercultural level. In fact, in the past they were used to relationships with fragmented and divided distribution networks, to individual customer, which were not very valuable, to scarce or weak competition, in which the leverage was mainly on the part of the producer, etc. For all these reasons these companies have serious difficulties in moving from sale to negotiation. Companies, moreover, got used to selling abroad through foreign agents, while losing a large part of the margin towards distribution, without ever really deal with real intercultural negotiations.
Competitive negotiation requires the creation of bargaining strength. The contractual strength depends on how unique the offer is (or on the lack of valid alternatives or substitutes) and on how much the counterpart needs the product you are selling, everything obviously mediated by communication skills.
Managing negotiations requires preparation and role-playing. A single word can ruin a meeting.
To sum up, in negotiations the competitive advantage depends on the bargaining strength. For the seller or proposer, strength depends on:
the uniqueness of the offer: an offer that cannot be compared to other offers has more value;
the lack of immediate alternatives: the impossibility of finding satisfaction elsewhere, even with reasonable effort;
the lack of goods in substitution (different goods having a similar function, e.g.: train instead of plane);
the urgency of the recipient’s need: a strong need generates less restrain and uncertainties;
the proposer’s prestige: there are fewer barriers related to first glance evaluation of the partner if the proposer possesses prestige and credibility;
the strength of the offer objective factors: performance features, performance technology and its real service;
valorisation and communication abilities: in fact, these leverages cannot be automatically activated, even in the presence of a high degree of power, because activating them requires skills of valorisation and communication;
the best possible use of bargaining strength (for those who make the offer) is positively related to the specific communication skills level of the negotiator (seller’s negotiation skills), while is negatively related to the buyer’s competences (buyer’s skills).
Contract’s negotiations are one of those contexts, in which negotiation conflicts become more evident. Each contract clause can bear cultural meanings, culturally unacceptable positions, attacks on the interlocutor’s face and image.
Legal culture is one of the most rigid culture in any national reality, and those who draw up contracts often takes an uncompromising and disrespectful position towards others’ cultures.
One of the first concerns of intercultural negotiators is therefore not to spoil the result of long and tiring verbal and personal negotiations with written elements (e.g.: documents, correspondence, contracts, etc.).
Let’s look at a real case: we will take into consideration some contract clauses proposed by an English IT company (here called XXX for privacy reasons) to an Eastern European correspondent, and its interpretations and reactions:
Perceived meaning and the counterpart’s comments
You may not substitute the IT specialist for another IT specialist without XXX prior written consent
“We send whoever we want to assist other companies. All our technicians are qualified, we have already given them all possible and imaginable guarantees, now they must also approve of our technicians, from time to time, but who do they think they are?”
During the period of this Agreement, you are retained on a non-exclusive ‘when-needed’ basis to perform the Services at such times and at such locations as XXX shall direct from time to time.
“But then we are not their partners, we are only there ‘when needed’. Are we, their servants? They talk about partnerships a lot and then write the opposite”
You shall be responsible for rectification at your own expense of any work which in the reasonable opinion of our company or any of its clients was unsatisfactory
“Are we crazy? And if customers are dissatisfied because there are no spare parts, ‘cause they do not send them to us, what do we do? And then just for an “opinion” made by them or by one of their customers, who’s in a bad mood, we have to redo everything? But what are they thinking?”
XXX will pay for economy class air or train travel
But look at these whore-goers! They are hunting foxes in fifty against a poor beast and now they want to send us around in second class, they will see …
Every legal clause, like every conversational move, can be read as an approaching move, a loosening move, a distancing move or a neutral move, depending on the relational value it assumes and the presuppositions it contains. The highlighted clauses are evidently all received as moves of superiority, acts of force and submission.
The outcome of these clauses, and many other clauses, that are part of the English contract – in the real case – generates the counterpart’s refusal to sign this contract.
No company with a certain reputation in the market could ever agree to sign clauses that compromise its image so heavily.
Yet, the contract was actually drafted by one of the leading London law firms, which is evidently completely ignorant about intercultural and relational values of legal contracts.
One of the basic principles of semiotics is that every “sign” (a clause, a sentence) is not only an external form, but it also takes on a meaning.
There is therefore an intercultural legal semiotics – a relational contract law, a science studying the relational values of contracts – that deals with the contracts relational meaning, avoiding disasters such as those shown in the example.
A correct negotiation must not only protect the proposing party, but it must also safeguard the counterpart in its identity.
Today’s topic is about status, which is difficult to achieve, but even more difficult to maintain. This feeling of uncertainty related to these difficulties in negotiation gives rise to status anxiety, which can negatively affect the outcome of a meeting.
Here are some definitions that Alain De Botton (2004) provides with respect to status anxiety.
– The position of a person in society; the word derives from the supine “statum” of the Latin verb “stare”.
– Strictly speaking, the term refers to the legal or professional position that a personhas within a group, for example to his marital status (married) or to his rank (lieutenant). In a broad sense, it indicates the value and importance that this person assumes in the eyes of others: and this is the meaning that interests us most.
– In the transition from one society to another, the categories that possess greater social prestige change … from 1776 until today (vague but indicative term…) status has been increasingly associated with economic success.
– The effects of a high social position are gratifying; we have money, freedom, space, time, comfort, and, last, but not least, the feeling of being loved and esteemed when others invite and flatter us, laugh at our jokes (even those without humor) and show us deference and consideration.
– For many peoplea high social position represents one of the most coveted assets, even if there are only a few that would be willing to openly confess it.
– The fear – sometimes so nagging as to compromise entire existential phases –of not corresponding to the models of success proposed by society and, consequently, of losing all dignity and respect; The suffering induced by the fear of occupying a very low rank in the social scale or of being downgraded.
– This anxiety is caused by various factors such as periods of economic recession, redundancy, promotions, retirement, conversations with colleagues in the same sector; but also, by successful people who attract the interest of the press or by friends who have had better luck than us. It is often associated with feelings of envy, even if it is usually not confessed, and can lead to unpleasant social consequences; therefore, the signs of this inner drama are scarcely evident and are generally limited to the thoughtful gaze, the stunted smile and the unwarranted silence with which we welcome news of other people’s successes.
– If the place we occupy in the social ladder makes us feel concerned, it means that the consideration we have of ourselves largely depends on the idea that others have of us. Unlike a few exceptional characters, such as Socrates or Jesus, we need to know that the world respects usto be able to accept ourselves.
– The fact that the status, already difficult to conquer, is even more difficult to maintain over the course of a lifetime is very unfortunate. If we exclude those societies in which status is established at birth – for example for reasons of noble descent –one’s status usually depends on whatone manages to achieve in life. Moreover, there are many possible causes of failure, such as the lack of self-knowledge,macroeconomic factors and others’ cruelty.
– Moreover, this failure originates humiliation, a devastating awareness of not being able to convince the world of our worth, which condemns us,on one hand, to consider with bitterness those who are successful, and, on the other hand, to be ashamed of ourselves.
– Status anxiety can generate suffering.
– The desire to reach a higher status can have, like all desires, its usefulness: it can lead us to value our talents, to improve ourselves, to avoid extravagant and harmful behaviours and to favour social aggregation based on a common system of values. But, like all desires, if exasperated, it can kill.
– Understanding thisanxious condition and talking about it can be the most effective therapeutic approach.
Therefore, we should not be surprised if in a negotiation both sides try to assert their status and suffer from status anxiety. However, we must ask ourselves which mechanisms are useful for negotiation, and which ones are destructive. We must ask ourselves – and know how to recognize – others’ mechanisms of climbing to status and conquering power in negotiation, and the defensive counter-moves. We must consciously avoid making status anxiety predominate and strive to seek a negotiating solution that is useful for both parties.
The main questions of intercultural negotiation are therefore:
Starting from my interlocutor’s culture point of view, what are the avoidable statements that can hit his/her status?
How can I re-balance the situation when my interlocutor puts himself in a superior position?
How can I produce a positive image of myself and my company, without giving the feeling of superiority, consequently unleashing resentments and vengeful mechanisms?
How does my interlocutor’s culture evaluate status; what confers status in that culture?
How much of the negotiation time should you dedicate to negotiate status and how much should you dedicate to evaluate the topics for discussion?
Besides the mutual acquaintance phase, when do status issues arise in the negotiation? While negotiating conditions? While fixing prices or logistics? in legal practices? Or in contract statements?
In this article I will examine 2 important topics of intercultural negotiation communication: the first concerns the personal image management, while the second one is related to the superiority-inferiority conflict.
In every negotiation comparing respective statuses becomes inevitable. However, statuses are considered intra-cultural and not cross-cultural elements. We cannot assume that a person belonging to an “other” culture recognizes a status that comes from an unknown system.
Let’s observe this real dialogue between two colleagues at a restaurant, the first is Italian and the second one is American.
US negotiator: “In America my family is in the upper-middle class, we have a thousand square meter apartment in New York, but my neighbours built a mezzanine, doubling the airspace, if business goes well next season I can enter the upper class, and build a mezzanine too. My children have two PlayStations each, and I’m giving them a good education: for each hour of study I multiply x 2 their possibility of using the PlayStation, so if they study an hour I let them use the PlayStation for 2 hours, if they study 15 minutes I let them use it for only half an hour, timed.”
Italian’s response: “But do you listen to your children or do you time them?” (unspoken thought: you can also have a mezzanine of a square kilometre, but for me you are always an asshole)
We are not interested here in discussing who is wrong and if someone is wrong, but it is clear that the American interlocutor is exposing a particular image of himself. He is expressing a “face” and he is indirectly exposing which are the status rules he believes in, and his convictions on the most appropriate pedagogical methods. For this person having a mezzanine and two PlayStations is an indicator of status. It is also clear that the Italian interlocutor does not accept these rules and that he measures personal value differently.
A more or less conscious management of one’s “social face” is part of every negotiation. However, on an intercultural level, sending out unconscious messages and producing damages during negotiations can be very easy.
Principle 20 – Managing one’s own status and the interlocutor’s status; “face” games and intercultural impressions management
The success of intercultural negotiation depends on:
the ability to create an adequate status perception within the interlocutor’s judgment system;
the ability to create positive impressions (identity management and impression management);
the ability to acquire status and “face” without resorting to undue attack mechanisms, that can damage others’ “faces” (“face” aggression or personal image reduction, absolute avoidance of top-down approaches);
Alain de Botton reports this passage which shows us how even at the highest diplomatic and negotiating levels one can be very ignorant of what transversal messages are being emitted and of the degree of damage that can be produced by knowingly or not knowingly placing oneself in a top-down position.
In July 1959, US Vice President Richard Nixon went to Moscow to inaugurate an exhibition dedicated to his country’s technological and material innovations. The main attraction was a life-size copy of the house of the average worker, with carpet, TV in the living room, two bathrooms, central heating and a kitchen equipped with a washing machine, a dryer and a refrigerator.
During various press services, the Soviet press, somewhat irritated, declared that no American worker could have lived in such a luxurious house – ironically named “Taj Mahal” by Soviets – and defined it a means of propaganda.
Khrushchev maintained a rather sceptical attitude when he accompanied Nixon to the exhibition. As he observed the kitchen of the house in question, the Soviet leader pointed to an electric juicer and said that no sane person would ever think of buying certain “stupid items”. “Anything that can help a woman doing her work is useful,” Nixon replied. “We do not consider women as workers, as you do in the capitalist system,” Khrushchev retorted angrily.
Later that evening, Nixon was invited to give a speech at the Soviet television and used the occasion to illustrate the benefits of the American way of life. Cunningly, he did not begin to speak of democracy and human rights, but of money and material progress. He explained that, thanks to entrepreneurship and industrial activity, in a few centuries Western countries had managed to overcome poverty and famine, which were widespread until the mid-eighteenth century and still present in many areas of the world. Americans owned fifty-six million televisions and one hundred and fifty-three million radios according to what Nixon reported to Soviet viewers, many of whom did not even have a private bathroom or a kettle for making tea. About thirty-one million Americans lived in their own home, and an average family was able to buy nine clothes and fourteen pairs of shoes a year. In the United States, you could buy a house by choosing from a thousand different architectural styles, and o certain houses were often larger than a television studio. At that point Khrushchev, sitting next to Nixon and increasingly irritated, clenched his fists and exclaimed “Net, Net! “, while apparently adding in an undertone ” Eb ’tvoju babusku” (Go fuck your grandmother).
What clearly emerges from this passage is the (perhaps) unwitting offense to poverty that Nixon transfers to Russian people, placing himself in a top-down position, superior position vs. lower position.
For too many times, negotiators do not realize that they are performing an “abuse of dominant position” (displaying excessive superiority that damages others) or practicing a “presumption of dominance” (thinking of oneself in superior terms).
Communication reveals self- conceptions and relationship conceptions even though the participants do not want to reveal them.
Let’s see another example and observe some passages of this email:
Two colleagues and I are close to retirement and after an intense activity as top managers in various multinationals we decided to create an external company. I ask you to be our consultant and to provide us with your valuable advices to help us build a successful company. Do your best to check if you can come to advise us in Turin. Anyway, send me a commercial offer because I must show it to my partners for approval. Please send me also your CV. I will present it to my two partners, so as to persuade them to approve your advice. This consultancy intervention must be done within January 2005.
Thank you in advance for your help.
This message intercultural problem is of psycholinguistic type and it concerns the use of the imperative and the enormous quantity of presuppositions present.
Let’s look at some implicit assumptions linked to this message:
some people believe that a commercial offer can be made without having analysed the problem and the necessary intervention times;
Others think that the recipient will send his CV to someone he/she does not know, without being informed on how and for what purposes this CV will be used (it takes only a few seconds to write a writing a reason on an email, but the real motives can be different);
There is also the assumption that the customer can dictate times and that it is the recipient, and not the writer, who must make the trip;
It is taken for granted that the recipient wants to work for the sender and that he approves intentions and projects.
The apparently courteous message reveals a culture that is not exactly courteous.
In the Italian culture being in the “buyer” position is a strength and working for years in a multinational company makes the buyer acquire a strongest attitude of strength and superiority.
The sender actually expresses an aggressive multinational culture, which is based on the belief that a multinational can “rule the world”, a way of being consequently absorbed by its managerial education. However, the Italian culture is not unique, and we cannot think that the prototype of the multinational’s dominance over a consultant, or of a buyer over a possible seller, is accepted by everyone.
The ALM method culture believes that there must be a certain degree of values commonality for a project to start.
We must always consider that our culture is not automatically the culture of others. The right strategy is therefore to avoid putting the counterpart in conditions of presumed inferiority or to assign automatic superiority.
In the following article I would like to conclude the topic of negotiation communication training, by listing, in a more detailed way, the interpersonal communicative abilities, explaining the importance of culture shock and self-awareness acquisition.
Code Switching: the negotiator must manage the change of communication codes (linguistic code and non-verbal code), in order to adapt to the interlocutor. Making your interlocutor understand you requires an active effort of adaptation, a willingness to change your repertoire and to get closer to other people. Whoever imposes a one-way adaptation effort on the interlocutor (one-way adaptation) and does not think about others understanding him/her, automatically creates barriers to communication.
Topic Shifting: the change of subject. The negotiator must understand which techniques need to be adopted to slip from unproductive conversations, to get away from dangerous or useless topics, to avoid touching critical points of other cultures, creating offense, resentment or stiffening. These skills – like other abilities – are useful in every communicative context, such as in a communication between friends, colleagues, companies, as well as in diplomatic communication.
Turn Taking: conversational turns management. There are certain cultures that accept others to interfere in their speech, and others in which the respect for speaking turns is essential. Turn taking includes conversational turns management skills, turn taking abilities, turn defence skills, turn transfer abilities, the capability of open and close conversational lines, etc. All these techniques need to be refined for both intra- and inter-cultural communication.
Self-monitoring: the ability to self-analyse, to understand how we are communicating (which style we are using), to recognize internal emotional states, one’s own tiredness, or frustration, or joy, expectation or disgust, knowing how to recognize those inner emotions that animate us during conversation or negotiation.
Others-monitoring: the ability to analyse and decode the inner emotional states of our interlocutors, to recognize his/her state of fatigue, energy, euphoria, dejection, etc., to know how to perceive the participants mutual influences, to grasp the power relations in the counterpart groups and to understand the degree of interest in our proposals and the right moment for closing.
Empathy: the ability to understand others’ points of view, from within their value systems and cultural contexts and to understand the value of their communicative moves based on the culture that generates them.
Linguistic Competence: the ability to use language, choice of words and repertoires, showing a deep knowledge of the language.
Paralinguistic Competence: the ability to use and strategically manage the non-verbal elements of speech, such as tones, pauses, silences, etc.
Kinesic Competence: the ability to communicate through body movements (body language). Movements management can be one of the strongest traps in intercultural communication, where some cultures – such as the Italian one – normally use broad body movements and gesticulations, while others – such as oriental cultures- use a greater demeanour, while retaining their body expressions.
Proxemic Competence: the ability to communicate through space and personal distances management. For example, Latin and Arab cultures accept and consider closer interpersonal distances normal, while northern European cultures don’t.
Socio-environmental Decoding Competence: the ability to interpret and understand “what is happening here” in relation to what is taking place during the conversation or the interaction. The negotiator must know how to recognize a conflict within the members of the counterpart group (intra-group conflict) and how to grasp the different positions, the trajectories of approach and relaxation, the different roles assumed and the moves of the interlocutors.
Both intra-cultural and intercultural negotiators need to be prepared for Reality Shock (or culture shock). Reality Shock can arise from the sudden realization that:
others don’t follow our rules;
others have different background values;
others don’t have the same goals as we do;
others do not behave like us, or even like we want them to behave;
some negotiators are in bad faith and dishonest: they do not seek a win-win approach, but only a personal advantage;
even with the greatest amount of goodwill, some negotiations escape comprehensibility and observable behaviours do not fit into rational logic.
The difference between an experienced negotiator and an apprentice negotiator is the degree of damage that reality shock does: low or zero for the expert, devastating for the apprentice.
The clash with reality can cause a shock, which can be followed by:
a positive process, reached thanks to the analysis of diversity, the acceptance of what can be accepted (without running into the extremes of radical unconditional acceptance), that leads the negotiator to improve his/her own cultural knowledge; or…
a negative process, caused by a fall of the emotional state, a rejection of reality that leads the negotiator to take refuge in his/her own cultural arena. The result, in this case, is often a withdrawal.
In order to activate a positive process of growth, and not a negative process of involution, it is necessary to work on our self-awareness (“Knowing how to Be”) of negotiation, through:
Cognitive Learning & Knowledge Acquisition: learning the contents that characterize the culture with which we want to interact.
Cognitive Restructuring: transforming our perception of the communicative act itself from an anxiogenic element to a source of positive energy. This practice requires the identification of negative self-statements (e.g.: “it will definitely go wrong”, “I am unsuitable”, “I will not succeed”, etc.), that must be replaced by positive self-statements, (e.g.: “let’s see if we have the right conditions for doing business”,” let’s go and compare our mutual positions without fear”, or even” let’s help the customer understand how we think”). The analysis of self-statements therefore consists in working on how we “enter” the negotiation, on what animates us.
Behavioural Learning & Communication Skills Acquisition: learning the skills necessary to “perform” or achieve a specific behavioural or communicative goal, by using dramaturgical and expressive techniques and relational dynamics.
Emotional Control Skills: developing some necessary emotions management skills, with which one can direct his/her own emotional energies in positive directions, recognize and remove negotiation stress, “recharge his/her batteries” and manage personal times, in order to take part in a negotiation in optimal psychophysical conditions.
In the following article I will go on explaining the basic features of the ALM business method, listing the most important communication training techniques and communication skills that every negotiator would acquire with it.
Communication trainings and simulations are essential to help us move from theory to practice. In the communication training of the ALM method:
We use an active training, paying particular attention to experiential assimilation and to active participation; moments of conceptual and theoretical reflection are useless if not concretely experienced.
the theory is connected to personal cognitive schemes: we aim to introduce new concepts and skills and to modify the underlying belief systems. A pure academic expression of concepts may not be enough to make people change;
There is a transition from cognitive schemes to behavioural and linguistic schemes: each of us must be ready to use concepts, beliefs and attitudes, by activating them without resorting to memory, thus avoiding long cognitive elaborations. Just as the footballer does not need to think about how the femur moves to shot a penalty kick, the negotiator must develop communicative automatisms connected to an inner communicative know-how.
The success of communication is therefore positively related to:
the available communicative repertoire: behavioural and communicative responses wideness and variety, stylistic repertoires wideness and variety;
the degree of “readiness” (easy accessibility) with which communication skills and relational moves can be used. This way, they become motor and linguistic schemes ready for activation and not mere mental traces to be reworked when necessary.
The final aim of this method is to obtain a high level of preparation on communication, which can help the negotiator to be ready to negotiate during most of the negotiation situations that may arise.
Communication training is divided into two areas:
transversal competence: the basic area (ground-level) where the main skills necessary in each negotiation are examined, and
situational competence, in which individual contexts necessities and specific interlocutors’ needs are analysed.
The success of intercultural communication depends on two types of communication skills:
The first is transversal to cultures and consists of general rules of effective communication that apply in any cultural context and it represents the basic communicative competence (ground-level expertise);
The second one is more specific and regards the cultural and situational target. In fact, there is an analysis of cultural traits and communicative strategies are based on the culture with which one must interact.
The main interpersonal communication skills covered (ground-level expertise) are:
code switching: ability to change codes, linguistic styles and linguistic registers;
topic shifting: ability to manage a change of topic and a conversation re-centering;
turn taking: ability to manage conversational turns;
self-monitoring: ability to self-analyse;
others-monitoring: ability to analyse and decode one’s interlocutor’s phases;
empathy: ability to understand others’ point of view and to see the world from within their value system;
verbal linguistic competence: ability to use language, choosing words and repertoires correctly;
paralinguistic competence: ability to use the non-verbal elements of speech, pauses, tones, accents, underlining, emphasis;
kinesics competence: ability to communicate through body movements (body language);
proxemic competence: ability to communicate through space management and personal distances;
socio-environmental competence: ability to interpret and understand “what is happening here”, in relation to the frames that come to life in the interaction.
In order to work on these skills, it is necessary to apply active training techniques. A special publication of the ALM method is dedicated to this topic.
Active training techniques mainly use actions, experimentations and behavioural researches, including elements such as:
breathing techniques and voice use;
techniques used for unlocking conversational repertoires;
stage space use and body language;
simulations and business games;
theatrical and negotiating improvisation;
analysis of the dramatic structure of the text, analysis of critical incidents and psychodramas;