The negotiation process is filled with conflict, either explicit or implicit. Such conflict can often lead to a standoff or a lose–lose situation. Much of the cause of such conflict can be found in cultural differences between the parties, in their expectations, in their behaviors, and particularly in their communication styles. Conflict in negotiation is regrettable because it probably will shut off future opportunities for deals between the parties.
Role of Context in Negotiations
Much of the difference in communication styles is attributable to whether you belong to a high-context or low-context culture. In low-context cultures, conflict is handled directly and explicitly. It is also regarded as separate from the person negotiating that is, the negotiators draw a distinction between the people involved and the information or opinions they represent. They also tend to negotiate on the basis of factual information and logical analysis. That approach to conflict is called instrumental-oriented conflict.
In high-context cultures, the approach to conflict is called expressive-oriented conflict. In such approach, the situation is handled indirectly and implicitly, without clear delineation of the situation by the person handling it. Such negotiators do not want to get in a confrontational situation because it is regarded as insulting and would cause a loss of “face,” so they tend to use evasion and avoidance if they cannot reach agreement through emotional appeals. Their avoidance and inaction conflict with the expectations of the low-context negotiators who are looking to move ahead with the business at hand and arrive at a solution.
The differences between high- and low-context cultures can often lead to conflict situations. They overlap because the subjects, culture, and communication are inseparable and because negotiation differences and conflict situations arise from variables in culture and communication.
Managers must be prepared by developing an understanding of the cultural contexts in which they will be operating. It is important to bear in mind one’s own expectations and negotiating style, as well as to be aware of the other parties’ expectations.
Managers should consider in advance what it will take to arrive at a win-win solution. Often it helps to use the services of a host-country adviser or mediator, who may be able to help with early diffusion of a conflict situation.