Managing a cross-cultural negotiation is tricky and complicated affair at the best of times. When these negotiations occur in a foreign language environment it can be even more so, particularly if you allow yourself to become lost in the discussion.
It is easy to feel left out of the loop when those around you are in discussion in a language you don't understand. You can feel distanced and become distracted, and it can impact on your natural communicative flow. Many challenges arise from the use of translators in business and it is how you manage these challenges that may well determine the ultimate success of your business negotiations. It is natural to ask yourself questions about the translators, questions such as:
How do you know they are translating everything as it is said? Are there side discussions? How are the ambiguous words translated? Can you trust your translator? Have they given away your business secrets? And of equal importance does the other negotiating party actually speak your language?
There are many more questions, but if you can have a strategy for dealing with and managing these questions then you will be well on the way to negotiation success. Use your own translators where possible. If you trust your translator, and they have a long history working with you, they will know what they can and can’t say. A good translator is hard to come by, but can become just as important as a deal broker.
Accept that if you don’t speak their language, then you are obviously going to be at a loss sometimes. In this instance you need to use your other senses to be able to pick up on the key business cues as they come out in discussion. Think of it this way, people who suffer from hearing loss or deafness can still communicate, and often their other senses are heightened to compensate. In a cross-cultural negotiation in foreign language, you too have to heighten your other senses. Finally use your time most effectively during the translation stages in the negotiation. What do I mean?
Normally when you are in business negotiations in your own language, you may be guarded in what you say and how you say it, concentrating mostly on ensuring you don’t say something offensive, unprofessional or let out a business secret. In addition to this you may be able to notice if the people across the table understand what you are saying. Only the most skilled negotiator can pick up the implicit cues given off in this situation. When you have a translator, you have the opportunity to watch and monitor the reactions of opposing side of the negotiation table. People naturally give off subtle hints when listening to new information, if you can take note of this then it will give you an edge. Watch for facial expressions, fidgeting, side discussions, and any note taking. These can all be indicators to the potential success or failure of your pitch. Using a Translator also gives you pause for reflection before you deliver the next section of your discussion, so after analysing the subtle reactions of your counterparts, you can adjust your speech accordingly.
If you stay calm and maximise your strengths in observations then you will give yourself the best chance of being able to navigate the challenges posed when negotiating in a foreign language environment.
Dr Nathan Gray is Managing Partner of AsiaAustralis – a strategic management advisory firm that specialises in markets throughout Asia. Over the past three decades our consultants have assisted companies achieve their market objectives in Asia.