How to conduct a negotiation with an American customer?

Due to globalization, cross-cultural interactions have become commonplace for companies seeking to expand their business beyond their place of creation. Culture has a strong influence on the way individuals think, communicate, and behave. And, of course, it also affects the types of transactions they make and the way they negotiate them.

Today, there is a trend among the different cultures of the world to try to become more interconnected, which is very beneficial when it comes to closing international deals. When these cultures come into contact, they tend to coincide in some respects, but it happens that the peculiarities or particularities of each one tend to be amplified. Therefore, knowing and adapting to other cultures is an indispensable requirement for any company seeking to expand internationally, both when dealing with the negotiation process with executives and when adapting the products or services offered to the preferences or tastes of the target society.

The great diversity of cultures in the world makes it impossible for any negotiator, no matter how skilled or experienced, to perfectly understand all the cultures he or she may encounter. Jeswald W. Salacuse, in his book, The Global Negotiator, talks about ten particular elements that can complicate a cross-cultural negotiation: the objective of the negotiation, contract or relationship?; negotiation attitude, win-lose or win-win?; personal style, formal or informal? communication, direct or indirect?; time sensitivity, high or low?; degree of emotion, high or low?; form of agreement, general or specific?; agreement building, bottom-up or top-down movement?; team organization, one leader or group consensus?; and risk-taking, high or low?

So, what are the most important aspects that a Spanish manager who wants to close a deal in the United States this week should consider?  

1. Objective, contract, or relationship: throughout the negotiation with an American manager, the Spanish manager should keep in mind that Americans tend to do deals directly, they do not consider it important to create a good relationship before doing business. However, they like to do business with people they like and can relate to. First impressions, friendliness, confidence and enthusiasm (without being overbearing) can be influential in securing a business deal.

2. Personal style – formal or informal: greetings in the U.S. are usually informal and accompanied by a handshake. Americans are friendly and smile a lot, they tend to be positive and enthusiastic, and you can shake their hand vigorously, put your hand on their back or even hold their arm. But at the same time, they have a great sense of personal space and are comfortable with some physical distance when talking. They are often quick to call each other by their first name, so be prepared for them to share their first name and use yours. And, very importantly, maintain eye contact at all times while speaking. This is the norm in the United States.

3. Communication, direct or indirect: their communication style is frequently direct and to the point, they want to reach an agreement quickly, and they say what they mean. “Yes” means “yes,” “no” means “no,” and “maybe” is not a polite way of saying “no” – it really means maybe. Although it is considered impolite to interrupt someone when they are speaking, it is a common occurrence in the United States. If someone hesitates to speak or takes the slightest bit of time to think about what they want to say, someone else can step in and start talking, finish the sentence or take the conversation in a new direction.

4. Time sensitivity, high or low: for them, time is money. Punctuality is really important to Americans. In fact, time has an almost tangible status, as it can be spent, wasted, saved, and invested in. Being punctual, getting down to work quickly and sticking to an agenda are indispensable requirements for closing a deal in the USA.  

5. Risk-taking, high, or low: as a general rule, Americans require very detailed contracts, trying to anticipate all possible circumstances and eventualities, however improbable they may be. This may be because they are high risk-takers when it comes to making a deal.

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