As I mentioned in a previous post, the international executives who were interviewed for the making of our business language materials at UT often characterized Americans as being rigid and demanding. This contrasts, for example, with the way that Spaniards and Latin Americans identify themselves as being more flexible.
There is a flip side to this, however. These executives also think that Americans put a lot of importance in being open and fair. Over and over again the executives expressed their admiration about Americans’ sense of fairness, often using the phrase “putting the cards out on the table” as a way of describing their negotiation style.
For example, Antonio Vilches, from Huesca, Spain, says, “The Americans expect all of the information and the analysis of the problem to be on the table. Later, they explain those issues where there may be doubts. It is all taken care of quickly in the negotiation and then they move on to the closing.”
Quite humorously, his perception of his fellow Spaniards is totally different: “We hide more information. We don’t show our cards during the presentation. And during the closing we trust in ourselves enough to purposely go slow so that we can wear down the adversary, because we want to wait and see how everything unfolds.”
So who sounds like the more flexible person now? The desire to be open and fair allows for an attitude of compromise. Both parties can gain from the negotiation.
Comments from one of the German executives, Marco Vietor, illustrates this type of attitude: “My experience is that Germans don’t like to alter their strategy. They go into a meeting or a discussion with a fixed strategy and won’t actually change it. A change in strategy would mean something like a loss of face.”
Where the Americans try to be open and fair, changing their position as facts are shared, the Germans, according to Marco, hold on to their original game plan.
We also see another flip-side view of things from Antonio’s comments when he says that Spaniards bring up new items at late stages of the negotiations. They like to use delays and time as a tactic. When the Americans think that they are about ready to close a deal, their counterparts suddenly bring up new issues that were never put out on the table until the last minute. Antonio’s view is that this results in frustrating delays, but he also admits that the tactic is often used to wearing the adversary down.
Javier Cantera, a Spaniard from Madrid, offers a similar perspective. “Americans want quick feedback during the negotiation process,” he says. “In Spanish culture, time is a basic negotiation variable. So, when somebody doesn’t answer you for a long time, he is playing to see how time can work in his favor. For Americans, the search for immediate results in stalled negotiations causes them to lose. This is precisely because they don’t know how to wait it out.”
So we see both the positive and the negative results from these flip sides. On the positive side, Americans are seen as negotiators who are open, who lay the facts out on the table, and who work for a fair compromise. On the negative side, their openness and sense of fairness clash with those who delay in presenting information, those who use time as a basic negotiation variable.
Here at the UT Center for International Business Education and Research (CIBER), we have developed a series of online materials related to international business, culture, and language. All of the materials are provided open-access and without password restriction. Feel free to visit the sites and check out all of the materials at the following URLs:
Prof. Kelm’s Homepage: