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Understanding the 7 mindsets of international negotiation

How to identify the type of person you’re negotiating with and know what makes them tick

By Marc Jacobs and Rob Morris 31 August 2018

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When it comes to negotiating, some people just want to win at all costs. Others are more interested in working together to reach an agreement that satisfies everyone involved. To get the best possible outcome, you need to understand who you’re dealing with and what motivates them – but how? 


Marc Jacobs, Senior Associate Partner of Hofstede Insights, London Business School Sloan Fellow and co-author of Negotiate Like a Local, shares his insights on the seven different types of negotiators you’ll encounter and how to handle each one.

1. Negotiation is a contest
The person sitting across from you is a ‘competitor’ who has one objective: to win. Think of it as a mental wrestling match, where brute force is as important as skill, or a game of chess that requires a strategic approach. Any of these scenarios may be applicable depending on the type of person you’re negotiating with. But ultimately, your counterpart sees this is as a competition that ends with someone winning and the other person losing. People with this mindset typically come from Anglo-Saxon countries including the UK, Australia and New Zealand.

When dealing with a ‘competitor’, listen carefully to their priorities and the words they use. You’ll most likely hear terms such as challenge, achievement, short-term success, winning, quick solution and targets. Asking the following questions will help you detect people with this mindset: why are they interested in our product or company, what would convince them to change supplier, what’s stopping them from working with us and what do they hope to achieve from this negotiation?

2. Negotiation is a process
Someone with a process mindset is an ‘organiser’ – they’re careful and like to plan. Such people – often coming from Germanic nations such as Germany, Austria and Czech Republic – believe agreeing the rules for the negotiation is equally, if not more, important than the actual talks. You’re best approach is to ask them about their process and the steps they want you to follow – then do as requested. Closing the deal will feel like you’ve reached a predetermined outcome.

An ‘organiser’s’ vocabulary includes words such as expertise, structure, information, process, reliability and predictability. To establish whether you’re dealing with an ‘organiser’, ask yourself about their approach to decision-making, how their competitors are doing and whether they’re willing to get one of their experts in a room with yours.

3. Negotiation is about win-win
Agreeing a deal where both parties are happy is considered the holy grail of negotiation. The chances of achieving that outcome increase sharply when dealing with someone who is ‘connected’. Such people are rare as the majority of us have different mindsets when it comes to negotiation. Nevertheless, you can find them – particularly in Scandinavian countries and the Netherlands. What makes them so special? They want to reach an agreement where everyone is happy with the outcome.

The ‘connected’ negotiator is generally well informed and has an extended network. They are also open and direct and expect you to be the same, believing that honesty and being straightforward are key to agreeing the best possible terms for all involved. These people use terms such as consensus, innovation, cooperative and well-being. You can spot them by asking yourself if they’re willing to work with you to solve a problem, questioning what they really want and whether you can find a creative solution if you can’t meet all of their expectations.

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4. Negotiation is a diplomatic ballet
If in talks with a ‘diplomat’, you’re dealing with someone who is typically well-educated and has a sense of humour. While appearing kind and agreeable, they can also come across as distant. The upshot is you’ll likely need to arrange multiple meetings with them – introducing you and your company in the first, building a rapport in the second and demonstrating stamina while showing respect in the third – to get the deal done. You’re engaging in a diplomatic ballet with a person who won’t do business with just anyone, so they have to see you as an acceptable counterpart.

Terms such as philosophy, rules, reliable, honour and logical are common parlance of the ‘diplomat’. The following questions will help you understand whether you’re engaging with such a person: do they mind changing suppliers, what would the philosophy of our relationship be and do they agree that it makes sense for us to work together? Nations with the highest propensity for this mindset include Latin countries such as France, Spain, Northern Italy and Belgium.

5. Negotiation is an exchange of favours
This type of negotiator – the ‘reciprocator’ – is more prevalent than you might think. Rather than buying a product or a service from just anyone, they will do business with someone they have a personal relationship with and trust. The ‘reciprocator’ believes they have done you a favour when purchasing something from you, and they expect something in return. Such deals are about exchanging favours rather than goods.

The 'reciprocator' commonly talks about loyalty, trust, long-term relationships and being uncomfortable with change. Establish if your counterpart falls into this category by asking them whether they would like to go for a business lunch or dinner, or whether their organisation is a family company. Other questions include: would you like to visit our headquarters, or my friend would like to intern at an organisation in your country – can you recommend someone who can help them? People with the reciprocator mindset are typically found in Eastern Europe, South America or Africa.

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6. Negotiation is a marathon
People in this category – known as ‘marathonians’ – prefer to invest time to build a relationship prior to doing business with you. Nothing is set until everything is agreed and even then, your counterpart may constantly revisit the terms of the deal. Establishing a strong partnership with you is of greater importance to the ‘marathonian’ than the agreement itself. For them, signing the deal is only the beginning; they expect you to be flexible and willing to make changes to the contract as circumstances change.

It’s relatively easy to spot ‘marathonians’ when listening to how they talk. Common words or phrases include introductions, flexibility, information and valuing relationships over executing tasks successfully. The following questions help you establish whether you’re dealing with a ‘marathonian’: how important is this project for their company, would it be easy for them to change supplier and is having a signed contract vital to them?

7. Negotiation is a search for perfection

Counterparts with this mindset are ‘craftsmen’ – they believe that both the big picture and tiny details of your relationship are equally important. You have to gain a considerable level of trust, otherwise they won’t do business with you. They are perfectionists who scrutinise every aspect of the agreement in order to achieve a harmonious deal, so be prepared to answer hundreds of questions throughout the process.

As negotiations go, ‘craftsmen’ have a different mindset often exhibited by people in Japan. These people generally use words such as precision, expertise, planning, efficiency and reliability. You can detect someone with this mindset by asking yourself about their decision-making process and who is involved. What budget do they have and would they be willing to go for work drinks that evening?

Marc Jacobs’ book Negotiate like a local is available on Amazon.

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