In “Anne Burn’s Personal Jihad,” Charles A. Rarick presents us a story of an American expatriate working in Jordan. The issues presented, how Anne Burn handles those issues, and the alternate strategies she could have used are relatively mundane, at least superficially. The significance, however, lies in how this particular case study serves as a segue to a conversation about cross-cultural communication in the larger context. In utilizing both Rarick’s case study and the factors and phases of international negotiation highlighted by Lewicki, Barry, and Saunders (2007) we will attempt to breakdown how Americans deal with business people from other nations as well as offer suggestions as to how they should conduct such business. Let us first begin by breaking down “Anne Burn’s Personal Jihad.”
What are the major issues in this case?
The major issues in this case revolve largely around two interpersonal conflicts with Anne Burn and her co-workers. Anne was sent to Jordan to promote the development of female entrepreneurs. One issue involved the interactions between Anne and one of her coworkers, Jafar Faqir. Jafar largely gave off the impression that he did not agree with Anne’s assigned duties in the business, but mostly Jafar seemed to have something against Americans in general. He wanted to know “the truth of America’s plan to eliminate Palestine” (p. 394). Anne’s ethnocentric approach in her initial interactions with Jafar seemed to make matters worse. She failed to recognize the novel nature of the advancement of women in the Jordanian workplace. Anne also presumed that Jafar and all Jordanians would stand behind their king’s plan of advancing women in the workplace. In projecting her American views onto another culture she did little to assuage Jafar’s preconceived notions about American arrogance and imperialism.
The other major issue revolved around Anne’s relationship with the director of the organization. To complain about Jafar, she wanted to speak with Dr. Massimi, the director of the organization. After taking awhile to schedule a meeting (because of separate issues with her assistant, Karim), the meeting itself did not go well. She kept trying to bring up the issue with Jafar, but Dr. Massimi seemed more interested in building a relationship with Anne by asking her about Jordan and having a discussion about both of their families. Anne outwardly displayed her frustrations in checking her watch and presenting an agitated front to the director. When she attempted to re-visit the incident, they were interrupted by a visit from men from the Jordanian Ministry of Tourism. At this point, Anne’s self-centered, American business approach came through as she chastised the director of ExportJordan and told him she would return when she could have his, “full attention” (p. 396). Anne decided to leave and send her concerns in an email. The response she received from Dr. Massimi was just that Jordan is a complex country. At this point Anne decided that she could not exist in the Middle Eastern business culture and decided to look elsewhere.
How did Anne handle the problem?
Anne attempted to resolve the problem with Jafar by directly approaching him and confronting him with her problem. She did it in a very confrontational manner by going straight to his office and even putting her feet up on his desk. He, of course, did not like this. In fact, in the male dominated, Middle Eastern business world, he likely used this sign of disrespect as an impetus for having Hayat, Anne’s friend in the office, fired. Her emotional and confrontational reactions were perceived as boorish and immature and her using God’s name in vain (p. 394) in a very religious culture likely made things even worse. While Anne handled her direct confrontation with Jafar poorly, she did make some good decisions. After the confrontation, she walked away in an attempt to calm down and become more reasonable. She made the right decision in assessing the structure (or lack thereof) in ExportJordan and taking the matter to a superior. Authority, especially male authority, would likely be a strong ally in this situation. She failed again, however, due to her impatience with Dr. Massimi. Instead of understanding the need to foster a relationship in doing business, she wanted her problem taken care of immediately.
What other alternatives might Anne used to work more effectively with Jafar?
It seems like Jordanians like to build personal relationships with their coworkers. Anne’s approach was to build an almost entirely business-only relationship with her coworkers based on the modes of doing business in the United States. She may have been better served to build a personal relationship with Jafar, asking him about his family, friends, past experiences, etc., rather than simply focusing on work. It also may have helped matters to enter into such relationships with grace and humility. It is common knowledge that there is tension between the United States and the Arab World and sensitivity to this would have gone a long way. Even high ranking foreign dignitaries from the United States will dress and act according to local customs as a means of extending an olive branch. In failing to extend these cultural courtesies, she did nothing to help build a good working relationship with Jafar. Anne could attempt to change Jafar’s mindset about the United States. She could offer to have a private conversation outside of work with Jafar about his concerns about her motives (and the United States’ motives in general). If they can work out some kind of relationship, his and her relationship might be a valuable asset for her both within the organization as well as helping her continue to adjust to the Jordanian culture. It seems a relationship with a native Jordanian man could be even more beneficial than with a semi-Westernized Jordanian woman.
In the case of “Anne Burn’s Personal Jihad,” Jafar’s use of threatening language and misogynistic behavior toward Anne sets the situation as a simple case of right and wrong. It is our belief, however, that Rarick (2008) intends the reader to discard cultural bias when examining all the factors of this case study. Granted, Jafar’s behavior was reprehensible, but some consideration deserves to be given as to how Anne, as an American, could have made things easier for herself and therefore could have operated as a more effective expatriate manager for Export Jordan. Multinational negotiation and communication can be a frontier wrought with pitfalls and complex challenges for American companies who fail to understand how a foreign country’s individual social and business culture informs decision making. In this paper we will attempt to demonstrate the kind of comprehensive analysis that Anne Burn overlooked in her dealings with ExportJordan. By utilizing Lewicki, Barry and Saunders (2007) factors and phases of negotiation from chapter 10 of MSA 604-Administration, Globalization and Multiculturalism, we will dissect international negotiation between the United States and Vietnam and the United States and Germany.
Negotiations a Mile Wide and an Inch Deep
In order to effectively evaluate how American companies interact with those from other parts of the world, we must first perform a self-analysis of the business climate in the United States. In entering into negotiation with an American company, a foreign business must understand some basic truths. In the United States, the company’s main objective is to “win” at any cost. This means that a foreign company can expect American negotiating teams to be nimble and flexible with their tactics. These companies will gladly concede what they consider “minor points” in an effort to secure their key objectives (Curry, 1999). This strategy will result in fast negotiations that are often very strong rhetorically, but may lack empirical substance.
Playing by American Rules
As we saw in Rarick’s (2008) case study, American business people often do not prepare as well as they should in dealing with foreign entities. While preparation is just one step, it is a key to successful negotiation. Americans often make the erroneous assumption that business people around the world share their collective values and norms or they maintain that other countries must play by the United States’ rules (Curry, 1999). Such “rules” involve direct communication that necessitates eye contact to establish trust. This also serves as a negotiation tactic for American companies who will use a lack of eye contact as a means to initiate confrontation. Negotiators from the United States are fond of not only establishing trust, but leveraging that trust to earn concessions from across the negotiating table (Curry, 1999).
Outsmarting the Competition
American negotiators enter into negotiations with a great level of confidence and authority, which at times can evolve into hubris. There is an overarching belief in the American business world that the United States is the gold standard as a world economy and that American business acumen is the reason (Curry, 1999). They therefore enter into negotiation assuming the upper-hand and their communication reflects this. They don’t want to “beat around the bush; they want to get to the root of any matter quickly” (Lewicki, Barry, & Saunders, 2007). A well-calculated approach backed by evidence may fall short in American culture where the bottom line is predominantly the determining factor (Curry, 1999).
Closing the Deal
As we saw in Anne Burn’s dealings with conflict, Americans want to resolve issues immediately and to their own satisfaction. Therefore, in negotiations, American’s will not take no for an answer (Lewicki, Barry, & Saunders, 2007). American’s will generally move methodically and in a linear fashion, through each point of consideration. Although they may concede minor points, they will steadfastly refuse to give up or let go of points they consider to be priorities. While patience is not an obvious virtue in American negotiators, their dealings with other cultures has helped to improve this skill set (Curry, 1999). As the world’s largest economy, the United States has established the “yardstick” by which foreign companies are judged (Curry, 1999). Unfortunately, as we saw in Anne Burn’s case, this can cause resentment from those in other cultures. Nevertheless, we have utilized this paradigm in our efforts to look at the factors and phases of negotiations when dealing with a country who by virtue of culture and distance is very foreign to the United States (Vietnam) and one that is more similar in the eyes of most Americans (Germany).
Negotiation in Vietnam
Vietnam, a country in Southeast Asia, is an important outlet for United States economic activity. Since the conclusion of the Vietnam War in 1975 and re-creation of a diplomatic relationship between the United States and Vietnam in 1994, a surge of American businesses has pushed into Vietnam (Cellich & Jain, 2004) in addition to an internal push for economic change called doi moi (McKinney, 2000). However, citizens of the United States and Vietnam have not yet solved all disputes resulting from the Vietnam War, as many American soldiers are still considered “missing-in-action” (McKinney, 2000). Although these disagreements still exist, Vietnamese and American business partners have been able to smooth over the differences when making business transactions (McKinney, 2000).
Vietnam is very welcoming of American businesses because of its status as a developing country. Their economic and political systems are still recovering from the aftermath of the Vietnam War, but its economy is still operated under communist rule (Curry, 1999). This communist economic rule can sometimes make trading in Vietnam difficult, as governmental officials may have to be involved in the closing process (Cellich & Jain, 2004) Thus, it is important for American businesses to be aware of Vietnamese business practices, such as negotiation, when interacting with Vietnamese businesses.
Expectations for Negotiation Outcomes
Because of its status as a developing country, most Vietnamese businesses ask for technology transfer when negotiating the final outcome, rather than simply purchasing the product. In order for continual development of the business and the country as a whole, the Vietnamese government, when involved in business negotiations, will typically attempt to acquire whatever technology was used to create the product. Then, Vietnam will be able to produce the product in the future because it would possess the technology to do so (Cellich & Jain, 2004). Another key aspect of Vietnamese negotiation outcomes involves a tolerance for ambiguous terms. When settling on final terms, if the Vietnamese feel as if clarification of a certain term of the negotiation would be a disadvantage to them, they would prefer to leave said term undetermined. Additionally, when confronted with an attempt to settle on the aspect of the contract that is yet unsettled, Vietnamese will often respond with silence or an attempt to change of subject (Curry, 1999). Thus, Vietnamese businesses attempt to “win” negotiations by not making concessions or compromises. Instead, they would prefer to leave terms of an agreement open-ended in order to not “lose” the negotiation (Lewicki, Barry, & Saunders, 2007).
Members of the Negotiating Team
As previously stated, negotiations made with large Vietnamese businesses will typically include officials of the Vietnamese government (Cellich & Jain, 2004) in addition to high-ranking members of the organization (Dunung, 1995). When negotiations are made with these individuals, decisions are likely to be made rather quickly because of the decision-making authority held by these individuals (Dunung, 1995). However, lower-level officials of the organization are still involved in Vietnamese negotiations, although they typically do not have much decision-making authority (Dunung, 1995; McKinney, 2000).
Another key member of Vietnamese negotiating teams is the interpreter. Because Vietnamese businesses negotiate more and more with foreign companies, a properly-trained interpreter is key to negotiation success. However, the Vietnamese will often use language or cultural barriers as an excuse when negotiations lose traction or are not meeting their expectations. Thus, it is recommended that all foreign businesses looking to negotiate with a Vietnamese business should bring their own interpreter to defend against this strategy (Curry, 1999).
The Physical Context of the Negotiation
Vietnamese business men and women often take advantage of the well-known cultural conception of time in business negotiations. The Vietnamese, as well as other Asian cultures, subscribe to polychronic time; that is, time is not entirely linear. If the Vietnamese have a meeting scheduled early in the day which goes long, they will not place priority on other events on the day’s agenda. Instead, they typically appear late to meetings without offering apology (Hendon, Hendon, & Herbig, 1996; McKinney, 2000). The Vietnamese have been able to use this stereotype as a strategy in negotiations in order to provide a psychological edge over the other negotiating party. Thus, it is recommended that foreign negotiators make it known that other opportunities are present aside from the current business opportunity to draw from the competitive nature of the Vietnamese (Curry, 1999).
Communication and Style of Negotiating
In order to maintain a sense of harmony, a typical citizen of Vietnam will not say the word “No”, even in a negotiation context. They typically act with great kindness and manners, without any aggression. Eye contact is often avoided, but this is not done in a rude sense; it is done to avoid the appearance of being overly rude or direct (Dunung, 1995). Vietnam is considered a high-context culture, such that the explicit words that are said in a conversation are not as important to the overall meaning as is the context in which the words are said (McKinney, 2000). Low-context Western cultures typically speak very directly and to-the-point. Thus, it is recommended that Western businesses ask for very clear statements from their Vietnamese counterparts when making negotiations in order to avoid later confusion. The concept of the “face” is another key issue when negotiating with the Vietnamese. Because of its collectivist culture, the Vietnamese are often more concerned with protecting the face of the other party. Thus, on the outside, it would appear that the Vietnamese want harmony with their foreign business counterparts (McKinney, 2000). However, as previously stated, they still desire to “win” negotiations with foreign counterparts (Curry, 1999).
The Phases of Negotiation
Due to their polychronic conception of time, the overall process of negotiation will likely take longer when negotiating with the Vietnamese than Western cultures. Additionally, the Vietnamese enjoy spending extra time early in the negotiation process developing a relationship with their foreign business partners (Cellich & Jain, 2004), because of their status as a developing nation. If they can achieve a good working relationship with a foreign company, they expect to receive help from the foreign company in the future in addition to the current business deal. As stated previously, the information exchange step of the negotiation process may be different from what Westerners typically experience. Both sides will likely attempt to receive as much information as possible from each other, but the Vietnamese can tolerate uncertainty better than Westerners (Curry, 1999).
Vietnamese use persuasion differently than Western cultures. As previously discussed, Vietnam is a high-context culture. In high-context cultures, emotional displays are typically avoided and conflict is typically avoided (Lewicki, Barry, & Saunders, 2007). Additionally, members of high-context cultures may take advantage of silence in order to disagree with a point made in a negotiation, rather than directly confronting the issue (Curry, 1999).
Lastly, when making concessions and agreements, the process for negotiating with the Vietnamese can be variable. As discussed previously, the concession and agreement process can be lengthy if dealing with lower-ranked officials of representatives of the organization (Dunung, 1995). Also, the Vietnamese like to change agreed-upon terms of the contract overnight to better meet their wishes of the deal (Curry, 1999).
Negotiation in Germany
The case study of “Anne Burn’s Personal Jihad” elucidated the need for understanding of cultural priorities when business people from the United States conduct international business in a nation or region that is set in stark contrast to the United States. Such a need seems obvious when dealing with the Middle East, Asia or parts of Latin America. American businesspeople run a greater risk of complacency, however, when conducting international business with Europe. Businesses in a strong economy like Germany can be lumped into a “Western Business” paradigm that mirrors that of the United States. To make such an assumption would be a crucial error in conducting business with Germany. The critical factors and phases of international business negotiation highlighted by Lewicki, Barry, and Saunders (2007) are as applicable to Germany as they are to nations such as Vietnam where the cultural rift between them and the United States is more apparent.
Expectations for Negotiation Outcomes and The Negotiations Team
When conducting business in Germany it is important that special attention is paid to the makeup of the team of negotiators and that team’s expectations for negotiation outcomes. German managers are notorious for having a comprehensive and refined knowledge of their business operations. This cross-departmental competency is a result of the merging of highly skilled, efficient industrial workers with the highly educated middle managers (Hendon, Hendon, & Herbig, 1996). It is essential then that the team who will be negotiating business is comprised of individuals with wide-ranging business acumen. Germans will defer to authority and competence on the part of visiting business people goes far in establishing that authority. While German managers typically have a command of English, a team should have a translator as there is oftentimes a strict adherence to the letter of the law in German business (Hendon, Hendon, & Herbig, 1996). Aside from being knowledgeable on all sides of the business being negotiated, it is critical that the team understands the German preconception for negotiation outcomes. Unlike Middle Eastern or Korean companies, German businesses typically do not see negotiations as an opportunity to win (Lewicki, Barry, & Saunders, 2007). The expectation for negotiation outcomes in Germany is to be provided with enough empirical evidence and data in order to make a prudent decision (Hendon, Hendon, & Herbig, 1996).
The Physical Context of the Negotiation
The logistics related to conducting business with a culture that places a high priority on formality and decorum such as Germany can be deal-breakers. It is of the utmost importance that visiting business people understand the value of time to the Germans on the other side of the negotiating table. Meetings should be arranged one to two weeks in advance and if tardiness is anticipated, a phone call with a detailed explanation is necessary (Hendon, Hendon, & Herbig, 1996). The need for punctuality stems from the high degree of formality that permeates the German workplace and culture. German companies are comprised of managers with clear job descriptions and there are rules regarding production that are inflexible. These measures help reduce uncertainty, a priority in German business (Glunk, Wilderom, & Ogilvie, 1996). While a custom like allowing the highest ranking individual to enter the room first or firmly shaking the hand of every person in the room may seem trivial to American businesspeople, they ultimately serve to reduce uncertainty (Lewicki, Barry, & Saunders, 2007). It therefore is incumbent upon visiting companies to meet this degree of formality and rigid adherence to decorum as a show of good faith that their priorities fall in line with those of the German company.
Communication and Style of Negotiating
Formality in German business dealings goes beyond punctuality and procedure. It is also the standard for communication in negotiating with foreign business people. The degree of formality and bluntness in verbal communication in the early stages of relationship building is a divergence from American culture. The priority of reducing uncertainty places a premium on clarity over bluntness (Lewicki, Barry, & Saunders, 2007). The definition of a good business relationship to a German manager has more to do with his or her trust in the visiting manager’s intelligence and competence and less to do with a particularly engaging personality (Hendon, Hendon, & Herbig, 1996). Kevin Widlic, an internal communication manager at the Norwegian Company Hydro described a situation regarding a communication breakdown with Germans after Hydro acquired a company of more than 16,000 employees:
At the time, e-mail was just starting to develop into the monster that it is today, and with an integration project of this size, it emerged as a highly valuable communication tool. However, our more informal Norwegian style of writing, exercised on German colleagues whose company had just been taken over by what was for many an unknown entity, produced many interesting comments. For example, the Germans commented on the use of first names and no titles, uncertainty about who was in charge, and who was responsible for what. We have a way of doing things, in terms of business structure and style, that was much more flexible than what they were used to. More significant, this also produced a slightly slowed process. (Anonymous, 2007)
Although the Norwegian company ostensibly attempted to put their new employees at ease through the use of informality, they succeeded in doing just the opposite. This example shows how it is inadequate to project a single culture’s own values onto another.
The Phases of Negotiation
The values of a culture are a critical part of the first phase of negotiation: Developing a relationship. Lewicki, Barry, and Saunders (2007) detail a lengthy business negotiation between a Chinese company and Canadian businessmen that starts with the Chinese diligently working to build a personal relationship. Such a process is not only extraneous in dealing with German companies, but can be counterproductive as it disrupts the clear need for procedure and directness in business that is held in high regard in Germany. American business people who seek to form relationships with German companies should lean heavily on bluntness and on their own credentials (Hendon, Hendon, & Herbig, 1996). While this may seem cold and calculated to American business people, it removes the need for pretense. Strong relationships with German companies are strictly professional and refreshingly honest.
Once American companies forge a relationship with Germans based on business acumen and a foundation of honesty and clarity, it is important that these values become a subtext of the ensuing phases of negotiation. Lewicki, Barry, and Saunders (2007) distinguish information exchange and persuasion as two separate steps, but in dealing with German companies they have a tendency to meld into one. This is due to the fact that in persuading German businesses, one must eschew common American persuasion techniques. The rigid, sometimes Draconian, German business style is simply a means to an end that ultimately reduces uncertainty to the nth degree. Therefore the field of marketing which utilizes creativity and innovation to enhance the value of a product is viewed as gimmicky and a mere distraction in German culture. American companies hoping to persuade German companies simply need to offer as much factual information and data that will assuage their need for uncertainty reduction (Hendon, Hendon, & Herbig, 1996). As was the case in forming a relationship, this cold and calculated approach may take the “fun” out of business negotiations, but it undoubtedly makes things simpler.
If American companies and business people perform due diligence in the earlier phases of negotiation, then the agreement phase contains little uncertainty. German companies will come to a consensus based on the data and facts presented and make a decision. German negotiators are hard bargainers and will utilize the data presented, as well as background information, to manipulate negotiations. The lowest price and a guarantee of prompt delivery and service are of paramount importance to German negotiators as those are standard in German business (Hendon, Hendon, & Herbig, 1996). It is important to note that although the German’s expect the best price for a product, this is not a mandate to low-ball competition. If a company provides superior products and services at the best price then that company may win out over a competitor with a lower quality product with cheaper prices (Glunk, Wilderom, & Ogilvie, 1996). German companies will provide a great deal of written communication explaining and backing up their decision, but this only serves to strengthen the finality of the agreement. German businesses are blunt and calculated, but they are also fiercely loyal (Glunk, Wilderom & Ogilvie, 1996).
Rarick (2008) presented us with intercultural communication between the United States and the Middle East in his case study of “Anne Burn’s personal jihad.” We then projected lessons we learned from that interaction onto negotiations between United States businesses and those in Vietnam and Germany while also taking a deeper look at the factors and phases that comprise American business negotiation. In this examination we discovered an underlying structure for intercultural negotiation that manifests itself in distinct steps. There is a relationship that is developed; information is exchanged; both sides try to persuade one another and finally an agreement is reached. Various factors such as the presumed end result, the composition of the negotiating team, the logistics of the deal and finally how teams communicate and negotiate play a significant role in intercultural negotiation. While these overarching structures are consistent in all intercultural negotiation, how they are executed varies greatly in every situation.
Anne Burn’s direct and blunt approach to interpersonal communication may have proved disastrous for her situation in Jordan, but it likely would have endeared her to a host of German business people. Her progressive social values regarding women hindered her relationship with Jafar, but would have seemed perfectly reasonable to a male co-worker in Vietnam (Wells, 2005). The factors and phases of negotiation that Lewicki, Barry, and Saunders (2007) present us are good tools to find a starting point for intercultural communication. Obviously, the onus is on individual companies to perform due diligence in filling in the blanks provided by these steps. While every intercultural negotiation situation is unique, one universal truth exists: Failing to research the culture with which you will do business will make negotiation exponentially more challenging.
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