Are You Cued in to Cultural Intelligence?

Oct. 16, 2009
Understanding the culture of the parties you are negotiating with is vital in order to establish a successful business relationship.

In a global economy, it's a mistake to assume that negotiation strategies are a one-size- fits-all proposition. Understanding the culture of the parties you are negotiating with is vital in order to establish a successful business relationship.

"Negotiation relies so much on the ability to read a situation and adapt on the fly to the cues that are there," says David Livermore, executive director of the Global Learning Center in Grand Rapids, Mich., and author of "Leading with Cultural Intelligence: The New Secret to Success."

With increasing globalization, cultural intelligence becomes only more critical to business success. Livermore points to a study done by The Economist which found that 90% of executives from more than 60 countries said cross-cultural leadership was their top management challenge . "It's important for any business individual from support services all the way up the chain, but especially for a leader who is trying to figure out how do we strategize to remain competitive in a global economy. ... A leader in particular has to be able to adapt on the fly," he says.

"Negotiation within the dominant American culture seems to be that you are more well-respected if you cut to the chase, say what we are here to talk about, get down to brass tacks, figure out if this is a good deal for both of us and move on," says Livermore. "If you went with that approach in Japan, and didn't first have a meal, or perhaps even do some sightseeing together, you might be behind in terms of even having a chance to negotiate a deal."

Livermore offers a four-part plan for developing the cultural intelligence needed to lead abroad:

CQ Drive -- The first element involves a self-assessment of your receptivity, confidence and drive for cross-cultural experiences. Are you the person who asks for spicy noodles with hints of squid and fish eyes, Livermore asks, or a traveler who would rather go hungry than take a bite?

CQ Knowledge -- Cross-cultural differences influence the way people think and behave. Being ignorant of a culture's impact on people's thoughts, attitudes or behaviors could hamper a person's ability to become culturally intelligent and potentially cost a firm billions of dollars in lost opportunities.

CQ Strategy -- CQ Strategy, says Livermore, is the buffer between taking your CQ Knowledge and understanding of a culture and actually applying that knowledge. CQ Strategy helps you determine the best ways to approach a cross-cultural experience and attain the most favorable result.

CQ Action -- This final element helps you decide when to adjust your behavior to fit a cross-cultural setting, and by how much. For example, says Livermore, a 45-year-old working with adolescents would come off as phony if he tried too hard to emulate their language and behavior. In the same manner, business managers who mimic the behavior they see in other cultures may come off as boorish or even insulting.

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