Negotiation Skills Company, Inc.
Negotiation Skills Company, Inc.

The Negotiation Skills Company -- Newsletter March 2006

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The occasional newsletter of
The Negotiation Skills Company, Inc. (TNSC)

Number 34, March 2006

The occasional newsletter of The Negotiation Skills Company, Inc. (TNSC)


In some English-speaking environments, people often refer to 'small talk' as an important factor when negotiating to establish and/or strengthen the relationship between the parties. Perhaps 'small talk' is a misnomer. If relationship is an important element in bringing about an agreement each party will willingly fulfill, conversational elements that strengthen the relationship are certainly not 'small' in their importance.

Another side of this analysis may be the reflection that for some Americans - as well as other negotiators - relationship is not viewed as a determinative element in negotiation and as a consequence, conversational attention paid to relationship elements such as "How's your family?" "What do you think about the local sports team?" or "It's good to see you again." may be viewed as inconsequential 'small' talk.

During the last week of February, I was joined by Mohan Joshi, TNSC's Mumbai-based trainer presenting a program in Singapore. Mr. Joshi spent some of his time focusing on the different levels of priority given to the relationship between the parties in Asia and Western countries.

Is there really a distinction between people from different cultures when it comes to the importance of the relationship in negotiation? One can argue that even one-time negotiations with shopkeepers in markets could have a tendency to be more focused on relationships in many cultures in Asia - as well as Southern Europe and many other parts of the world - than they are in Northern Europe and North America. By reputation, negotiators from the United States want to get right down to business, close the deal, and then move on to the next transaction.

However when the negotiating parties have a history of doing business together - or the hope of doing more together in the future - even in the hard-nosed world of Western business practices, relationship is a far more important element of the overall process.

Successful negotiation - which yields real agreements -- requires that each negotiator treat other parties with respect and empathy. While this may sound like good ethics and even good etiquette, it is also responsive to the pragmatic need to get parties to buy in to whatever agreement is reached. Ignoring the relationship may reflect a failure to consider the egos of other parties - and can have the result of reducing their incentive to reach agreement.

The question remains, "Is relationship at a different level of priority in different cultures?" Relationship itself can be more or less important in any given negotiation - but the way parties handle relationship issues does vary not only on a country-by-country basis, but also in different business sectors within a given country and even in different corporate silos.

People like to be treated as human beings and not just cogs in the machine of commercial progress. In some places, inexpensive gifts may be utilized as a symbolic relationship-building gesture; in other places such gifts may be considered akin to a bribe. Understanding the choreography of how personal relationship is handled in different environments is critical knowledge each negotiator needs.

Paying attention to relationship issues should be undertaken in ways that don't cross the line separating propriety from invasions of privacy or personal space. Treating all people from a given culture - national, corporate, or professional - as clones of each other diminishes the likelihood they will feel as if you are genuinely interested in them as individuals. The joy of negotiating can be found in getting to know your negotiating partner and responding to his or her personality. If relationship were not important, negotiation could be left to computer programs.

Small talk is no small thing in negotiation; it sets the stage for relationships that can lead to trust - and wise agreements.


Two of TNSC's long-time Senior Trainers are taking new roles as part of our group: Mary Ellen Shea is devoting her efforts to work in the area of labor/management relations. Dr. Curtis Johnson has agreed to be TNSC's specialist in crisis negotiation and dealing with difficult people.

TNSC is also pleased to announce that Bruce Johnstone of Auckland, New Zealand and Sydney, Australia and Rajaram Krishnaswami of Pune, India have joined our team. You can see their photos and read their bios in the Staff section of our website. The addition of Rajaram and Bruce means that clients in South Asia and Australasia will be able to utilize the services of TNSC while incurring less expensive travel costs.

Quotation of the moment

"In negotiation, positions are to interests what symptoms are to disease. Addressing the symptoms does not cure the disease. An effective negotiator knows how to diagnose the interests and thus address the positions."
-- Felicity F. Barber

May your negotiations be rewarding and lead to excellent results,

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