In the article “Adam Smith, John Wayne, and the American Negotiation Style,” the author states what he believes to be the fundamental rule of international negotiations: you must understand your own culture to be an effective international negotiator (Compendium 186). Knowledge of culture, style, ideals, and traits is crucial to forming an effective argument and getting positive results out of a negotiation. I come from the United States, where our fast-paced, direct, and individualist tendencies have earned us a reputation as the world’s worst negotiators. American negotiation style is not always acceptable in other parts of the world and we must be aware of our differences and open-minded to other points of view. In this essay, I will discuss the cultural differences between the United States and other countries by examining the meaning and influence of monochromic vs. polychromic cultures, low vs. high context communication, and collectivist vs. individual cultures.
MONOCHROMISM VS. POLYCHROMISM
Benjamin Franklin, an American Founding Father, coined the phrase “time is money” in 1748, thereby establishing the concept of monochromism in American culture and negotiations. Citizens of monochromic countries are task and closure-oriented, preferring to complete one task at a time without disruption or distraction (Fell). Those in monochromic cultures believe that time is divided into pieces that can be arranged, scheduled, and measured. The United States hosts one of the world’s fastest paced cultures. From fast food and microwaves to our negotiations, we expect everything to be organized and efficient. This preference likely emerged during the industrial revolution, when factory life was strictly time-controlled and structured and workers’ time was seen as an important resource not to be wasted. In negotiations, though, this need for speed and structure may hurt Americans and citizens of other similar Anglo Saxon countries, as we can be seen as impatient and overly assertive.
Other cultures, like those in Latin America, Africa, and the Middle East, place a higher value on building relationships with business partners before beginning negotiations. These cultures can be described as polychromic, in that they perceive and structure time in a more relaxed way. As Fell puts it, “there is no imperative to seize the day because another will come” (Fell). Individuals in polychromic cultures are open and react to their environment and those around them, taking time to care for other people. Relationships are very important and are expected to endure. Those in polychromic cultures often view the monochromic style as uncaring and lacking in essential relationships. Negotiators can avoid frustration and confusion by gaining knowledge of how their opponent views time.
HIGH VS. LOW CONTEXT COMMUNICATION
The cultural understanding of time is often indicative of the level of context in communication. High versus low context communication can be described as the amount of direct or indirect communication used in discussions. In low context cultures, negotiations involve explicitly clear and precise messages. The United States is a prime example of a low context culture, where straightforwardness and clarity are valued. To Americans, negotiations can be seen as a competition, whereas others see it as a compromise (Compendium 191). Because Americans are so focused on “winning” a negotiation, simple, direct verbal and written communication is necessary to avoid confusion and achieve the desired result of the negotiation as efficiently as possible.
Americans often make the incorrect assumption that when someone is indirect in negotiations, they lack confidence; however, high context cultures that that value indirectness can find the low context style to be too blunt and unsophisticated. High context negotiations tend to be very lengthy in order to build relationships before beginning...
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