Just last week, I attended a presentation on negotiation by Chris Voss, CEO of Black Swan, at Georgetown University. It was particularly interesting because Chris was also one of the top hostage negotiators for the FBI.
Negotiation is increasingly important because with the spread of globalization, we are constantly colliding with others who may or may not share our cultural mores, and to be successful in our jobs, whether it is working with parties on governance and accountability, consulting with civil society, or communicating around a project, we have to understand how to negotiate globally.
One of the experts in the field, Karen Walch, a professor from the Thunderbird School of Management, seems to agree. In her blog on Global Negotiation, Walch notes that many of the old rules for negotiation no longer apply because they pertain to a time before global and social interdependency and mechanisms for justice became fundamental components in the world economy. She believes that negotiators in the 21st century need a new system of rules that work in the context of globalization.
Which brings me back to Chris Voss at Black Swan Group. Voss maintains that his basic ‘hypothesis’ in any negotiation is that each side is in possession of at least three Black Swans, three pieces of information that if known by the other side , would be game-changing. And this information may be completely innocuous, and both sides are often unaware of its importance. So I asked Voss: How do you navigate past all the cross-cultural barriers to get this information?
Voss says that human beings all have three basic approaches to conflict, regardless of cultural context. These are Fight, Flight or Make Friends. He calls them – Assertives, Analyticals or Accommodators. He says that culture is the starting point of a conversation and not the beginning or end of a deal. If you focus on the other person, understand their basic approach, and take cues from them and thereby build trust and demonstrate respect for them, they will allow you the space to make mistakes. So in the end, whether you bow deeply enough or use the correct fork is less important than understanding your interlocutor.
Picture credit: flickr user Crossroads Foundation Photo