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Henk Botha

Henk Botha

Perceptions May Influence Negotiation Outcomes

How do you perceive the Americans, Japanese, Chinese, Zulus, Afrikaners or Xhosas? You probably have specific preconceived ideas about people from other nations or cultures. These perceptions might have no factual basis, but they nevertheless exist. They influence how you would approach negotiations with people from different cultures.

Similarly, foreign negotiators have certain perceptions about negotiators from your country. Again, these perceptions may have no factual basis but do exist. You need to know how other cultures perceive negotiators from your country so that you can adjust your negotiating style accordingly. Capitalise on the positive perceptions foreign negotiators have of you. Also, find ways to neutralise the negative opinions they may have of you.

Here is a case in point: negotiators from other cultures may perceive South Africans of European descent as culturally insensitive. They may think that English and Afrikaans- speaking South Africans only take an interest in their own culture, language, and business customs. Where do these perceptions arise? Most South Africans of European descent only speak English and Afrikaans. They have their business customs. These two facts may cause people from other cultures to think that English and Afrikaans South Africans do not take an interest in different cultures. If negotiators from different cultures want to do business, they must do so in English or Afrikaans. They must apply First World standards.

A country such as the USA has people from many cultures: British, Irish, Japanese, Chinese, Asian, African and European. African-Americans may come from any of the 23 independent countries on the continent, all with their own culture. People with European roots may come from any of the 44 independent countries on the European continent. Therefore, it is no wonder that Americans have various perceptions about people in their own country who have different cultural backgrounds.

A country such as South Africa has so many people from different cultures known as the rainbow nation: Afrikaner, English, European, Khoisan, Ndebele, Pedi, Sotho, Tswana, Xhosa, and Zulu, to name a few. South African negotiators must, therefore, realise how perceptions of other cultures may influence negotiation results.

Negative perceptions can be destructive for business and may create negative attitudes. You must be aware that negotiators from other cultures may have negative feelings about you. You must realise that you must counter these perceptions. It does not mean that you must learn to speak a foreign language. It will go a long way if you know a few simple phrases in a foreign language. Learn the words for saying “hello”, “please”, “thank you”, “Good morning!”, “Good-buy!”, “I hope to see you soon”, and so on.

Learn how to address people. First names are not common in all cultures. The other person may think it is not polite if you use first names. Address the other person as “Mr”, “Mrs”, “Miss”, and “Doctor”. Find out the equivalent of these titles in the foreign language. Use these titles until your counterpart invites you to use a first name or another title. Another way to counteract negative perceptions about your cultural sensitivity is to translate personal, company or product information. You do not have to convert all documents into the foreign language. Often a translation of one text will do. It will show that you appreciate your counterpart’s language. In addition, it will help you overcome negative perceptions your colleague may have about your interest in his or her culture.

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