Intercultural negotiation : to adapt, or not ?

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When two French executives negotiate together, they assume the other part is going to behave according to what is appropriate in their culture. For instance, in France, two negotiators approach one another and shake their hands to greet each other. However, when a French executive negotiates with a Chinese or a Russian executive, this physical closeness may be disturbing.

photo jimena 1On the pictures above, the French President François Hollande approaches and touches the Chinese President Xi Jinping to greet him. This is possibly a disturbing behavior for the Chinese President.



photo jimena 2Nevertheless, Laurent Fabius –the Foreign Affair Minister- keeps more physical distance, to greet him : respecting the normative cultural behavior for the Chinese President. We could infer that Laurent Fabius adapts to his interlocutor’s culture.



The example illustrates the cultural differences regarding normative* social behaviors (physical distance greeting each other).

Unlike common preconceptions, the success of a negotiation does not depend on the negotiators’ adaptation.

It depends on the result of those consecutive factors :

  1. Cultural norms* influence negotiators’ behaviors.
  2. Regardless of whether one of the negotiator adapts to the interlocutor’s culture, both negotiators can choose to keep their own cultural normative behaviors as long as they manage to understand one another.
  3. This understanding is the key of success for an intercultural negotiation.

schema jimena 3

Brett, 2014 Negotiating Globally

Dr. Jimena Ramirez, International Negotiation Professor at IESEG and ICoN (International Center on Negotiation) Director, publishes articles about different aspects of intercultural negotiation.

If you would like to learn more about your negotiation skills, you can receive a customized analysis about your cultural norms, your most natural negotiation strategy and your understanding skills : key elements for negotiating successfully.

Answering the following questionnaire, clicking here.

* Norm : standards of appropriate behavior (ex. Kissing on the cheeks is common in France ; not in China.)

Intercultural negotiation : to adapt, or not ?