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How to become a star at the negotiating table

10 January 2022
By Claus Adam Jarløv

Do you feel confident in your role when negotiating abroad? Or do you sometimes have doubts about how to behave in an unfamiliar culture? Which rules apply in the negotiating room and especially outside? And whether your English skills are up to scratch?

Here are five things to consider when negotiating abroad

1) Start by negotiating with yourself.

Every good negotiation starts with negotiating with yourself - what can you achieve from the negotiation, where are your uncertainties and what could the outcome of the negotiation mean for your own career. Once you have these things in place, you'll be better able to make quick decisions when the negotiation itself gets underway - and you'll have a good starting point for the next phase, the negotiation with your team.

2) Control your backing.

Create a strategy with your team and define your goals. Decide how far you can go in the negotiation so that you all agree on what your mandate is. Well-defined objectives and agreements make you more confident in the negotiation situation and prevent subsequent disagreements within the team.

3) Create a relationship with your counterpart.

Be aware that the negotiation with your counterpart is already in full swing long before you sit down at the negotiating table. The informal chats in the taxi or over morning coffee help to build trust and goodwill. Show that you are interested in the other party, for example by learning some polite phrases in their language or checking up on the latest news in the country they come from.

4) Understand your counterpart's culture.

Understand the cultural background of the other person. As Danes, we tend to think we can get away with our humour and informal style, but it's very easy to fall short. A humorous remark that falls flat, or a lack of respect for the other person's status and internal hierarchy, can be embarrassing at best and a showstopper at worst. If you are unsure about the other person's cultural rules, ask - this way you are also showing interest and respect for his or her culture and conventions.

5) Speak English you can understand - and forget your linguistic vanity.

English is usually 'the language of negotiations', but it is rarely the mother tongue of (both) negotiating parties. This can easily lead to misunderstandings. So make sure you mean the same thing when you use the same words. And think less about how elegant it sounds when you speak English and more about whether the other party understands what you are saying. As we say to our students: 'You're not attending a language beauty contest!' At GlobalDenmark we have many years of experience in training people to participate in international negotiations. Do you want to be a sharper international negotiator? And maybe also become wiser about what not to do? Then click in and read more about our courses in negotiation skills, and how they've helped others succeed at the negotiating table.