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Posted June 9, 2010

Book: International Negotiation: A Cross-Cultural Perspective
Author: Glen Fisher
Intercultural Press, Inc. Chicago, IL. 1980. Pp. 69
A good book for working in a multicultural environment.

Excerpt from the Introduction:

This paper isbased on a project carried out for the Department of State’s Foreign Service Institute to support training activities, but is being published for its more general applicability to a wide range of professionals for its more general applicability to a wide range of perfessionals who work internationally: business executives, educators, scientists, technical assistance specialists, volunteer agency personnel, reporters and those who manage the linkage of an increasing variety of trans-national organizations and institutions..

An Excerpt from the Book:

Coping with Cross-Cultural “Noise”

It is not a very precise term, but “noise” has been used by communication analysts to call attention to the fact that background distractions which have nothing to do with the substance of a “message” nevertheless have to be taken into account if one wishes to understand complications in the communication process. Sometimes this distraction really is noise, or it might be the presence of other people, a poor telephone connection, or habits and idiosyncrasies of the communicators that bother one party or the other.

The noise concept is particularly useful in cross-cultural communication, a a whole new range of “noisy” elements reflecting cultural difference may be introduced to add to the strain of transmitting intended meaning. Such factors affect negotiation, especially in less cosmopolitan and less formal situations and certainly in the daily routine of doing business in another country. They deserve attention.

Cross-cultural “noise” can derive from gestures, or behaviors which seems overly — or insufficiently — courteous, or clothing, or office surroundings that do not feel right for the occasion. The confusion comes, of course, because such surprises conflict with expectatons and lead to misinterpretation of the situation or the intent of one’s respondent or the meaning of the message itself.

Or they simply make it more difficult to pay attention to the main subject. One of the classics in this category is the distraction posed when the normal speaking distance between two people is violated in a cross-cultural encounter. The reader almost certainly has been reminded of this; it was first observed by anthropologist Edward Hall when he was on the staff of the Foreign Service Institute in the early 1950's. it wa presented in his book The Silent Language an has been taught by FSI linguists since that time.

Mexicans stand closer, Japanese further away. The emotional alarm that is set ouff when one’s distance barrier is broken is an excellent reminder of the unnerving potential of such behavioral mismatches and also of the degree to which an individual can be entirely unaware of culturally-acquired practices until they surface in a cross-cultural situation. When emotions are involved, such as anxiety regarding intentions, disgust, modesty, etc., the challenge to maintain an even intellectual keel is still greater.

. . . .Perhaps the most unnerving form of Japanese “noise” is silence! Long pauses are normal in Japanese conversation both before responding and in the middle of a developing thought. To an American in such a situation, fifteen seconds can be a very long time, and panic tends to set in to fill the conversation vacuum. Further, Japanese forms of polite behavior tend to confuse Americans even though they rarely find themselves having to match bow for bow. Japanese politeness seems artificial to the Americans, as is also the case of the more formal European and Latin American behavior. Japanese attempts to avoid giving offense leave Americans with little feedback — they do not know how their messages are being received. Most difficult of all is knowing when the answer is “no.” in fact, an internationally-wise Japanese has written a book for American businessmen to help them understand Japanese ways. The title is Never Take Yes for an Answer. Japanese use of smiles and even laughter to signal shyness or embarrassment visibly confuses Americans.

. . . .The Mexican also avoids saying “no.” The problem is to read the expression and the qualifications which mean “no,” even though the words say or imply “yes.” Mexicans use some physical contact to signal confidence, such as a hand on the upper arm. Americans who are standoffish from the Abrazo are probably a bit hard to take; they have signaled a certain coolness. Americans may have difficulty playing the high social status role that goes with important position in societies such as Mexico. There is an art to being waited on and deferred to while at the same time being protective of the personal dignity of people in lower social position. American expressions of impatience and irritation in Mexico when things do not work or delays are encountered creatre considerable “noise” — both figuratively and actually. Mexican practices relating to the role of women create their share of noise too.

Table of Contents:

Negotiations, culture and social psychology

First, consideration: the players and the situation

Second consideration: styles of decision-making

Third consideration: how much does “National Character” affect negotiation?

Fourth consideration: coping with cross-cultural “noise”

Fifth consideration: trusting interpreters and translators