• 5 Ways Your Attitude About Cultural Differences Impact Negotiations

    Posted on July 13, 2012 by in Culture, Negotiation

    In this week’s episode of the Financial Conflict Coach Show, I talked a lot about how culture influences your negotiation style. I want to continue that discussion and look at how your attitude about cultural differences impact your interactions with a spouse/partner, family, friends, clients and other people.

    Michelle LeBaron (University of British Columbia Professor of Law), in the book Bridging Cultural Conflicts (2003), suggested there are at least five different traps you can get into when dealing with cultural issues. To successfully engage and reach an agreement, it’s important to understand your preferences and learn how to adapt. Here are Michelle’s examples:

    Automatic Ethnocentricity Trap

    If you deal with cultural issues in this way you tend to believe the way you (or your culture) see things is the “normal” way. Your way is the best, “right” or natural way of viewing the world.

    To escape this trap, admit that your way is the best way for you- but admit there are other valid ways to think or act.

    Taxonomy Trap

    Most people will find themselves caught in this trap at some point. The Taxonomy Trap is seen when generalizations about cultures become stereotypes. It’s in our nature to try to organize and categorize things in our lives. But in a negotiation, this kind of thinking often leads to automatic assumptions- which could keep you from reaching an agreement.

    Keep from falling into this trap by letting your interactions only mold your opinion about the person or group you’re dealing with at that moment. Don’t let past interactions cloud your judgement.

    Complexity Trap

    Overwhelmed with all of the nuances of cultural differences? You might be stuck in the Complexity Trap. Being overwhelmed with all of the layers of the other person or group in a negotiation can tire you out and cause your brain to shut down. Sure, cultures are complex. But this complexity should not keep you from being curious, learning or considering options.

    This trap can be avoided if you spend plenty of time preparing for a negotiation. Understand the cultural differences before you sit down to discuss an agreement. That way, once you’re engaged in the negotiation, you can focus on the end result instead of being surprised by tactics or strategies used by the other person or group.

    Universalism Trap

    People get stuck in the Universalism Trap when they convince themselves everyone is, at least at the core, exactly the same. Differences and potential issues are overlooked or totally ignored.

    To escape this trap, think of fingerprints. Although everyone has them and some are very similar- yours are unique. We are the same but we are also different in some way. The adventure is finding these differences and finding a way to meet in the middle.

    Separatism Trap

    This is, what most conflict engagement specialists consider to be, the opposite of the Universalism Trap. If you approach a negotiation like this, it will be extremely difficult to reach an agreement. Because if you sincerely believe there is no common ground among cultures, no possible way to connect or understand each other- you probably won’t even sit down with the other person or group in the first place.

    Again, I suggest you think of fingerprints to keep from falling into this negotiation trap. Your fingerprints are unique- but just about everyone has them. It doesn’t matter how small or seemingly insignificant a similarity is- it’s still a place to try to start a productive discussion.


    So, what’s your attitude when dealing with a person or group from a different culture (including sub-cultures)? Have you been stuck in one of Professor LeBaron’s traps before? Share your stories in the comments below!

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3 Responses so far.

  1. [...] 5 Ways Your Attitude About Cultural Differences Impact Negotiations @ Financial Conflict Coach. [...]

  2. Daisy says:

    I live in one of the most culturally diverse cities in the world and it’s definitely important to prepare and know the culture that you’re negotiating or dealing with – I think that these traps can apply to other things too. Interesting post!

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