business strategy | December 06, 2015

A ‘Yes’ in One Culture Is a ‘No’ in Another: Erin Meyer in Harvard Business Review

In today’s international economy, what works in negotiations at home might lead to disasters abroad. Expectations for behavior and etiquette differ from one culture to the next, and even subtle misreadings can sabotage fruitful partnerships. As cross-cultural business expert Erin Meyer writes in “Getting to Si, Ja, Oui, Hai, and Da” in Harvard Business Review, “when managers from different parts of the world negotiate, they frequently misread such signals, reach erroneous conclusions, and act … in ways that thwart their ultimate goals.” To help consultants, traders, and other global actors “stay aware of key negotiation signals” and avoid such pratfalls, Meyer here identifies “five rules of thumb for negotiating with someone whose cultural style of communication differs from yours.”

Author of The Culture Map, professor at INSEAD, and winner of the 2015 Thinkers50 Radar Award, Meyer is one of the world’s foremost experts at communicating across the cultural divide. Whether writing on high context vs. low context cultures, managing global teams, or interpreting emotional cues, she provides invaluable advice for anyone forging international relationships or trading ideas or goods across borders.

Meyer’s five rules should offer an enlightening survey of where, and how, deals can break down. They also put a surprising emphasis on the role of trust and personal connection in delegations. She studies how different cultures express disagreement or negativity; she shows how confrontation and emotional expressiveness don’t always go hand-in-hand; and she illustrates how saying “yes” and “no” won’t always be as straightforward as it may be in New York or Toronto. Her writing on how different cultures build trust in different ways—and how even legal agreements carry different connotations, culture to culture—is particularly instructive. The key is to be extremely sensitive, to spend time getting to know and understand your partners. To be empathetic, alert, adaptable, and to watch “for cultural bridges.”

“When you are negotiating a deal,” Meyer writes, “you need to persuade and react, to convince and finesse, pushing your points while working carefully toward an agreement. In the heat of the discussion, what is spoken is important. But the trust you have built, the subtle messages you have understood, your ability to adapt your demeanor to the context at hand, will ultimately make the difference between success and failure—for Americans, for Chinese, for Brazilians, for everybody.”

To hire Erin Meyer as the keynote speaker for your next event, contact The Lavin Agency speakers bureau.

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