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© 2020 Jeffrey Robertson

Culture and negotiation

Monday, July 11, 2016

There is an ongoing debate regarding the role of culture in diplomatic negotiation - at its heart is the balance between particularism and universalism.

Some argue that states and their representatives have a specific style of negotiation, which is particular and unique. Because of their distinct cultural background (including linguistics), bureaucratic training, and experience, the diplomatic negotiators of one state will be distinct from the diplomatic negotiators of another state. 

Others argue that states and their representatives share a common set of professional beliefs and behaviors that result in a universal style of negotiation. Because of this 'professional background' shared by the diplomatic corps in every capital city, the diplomatic negotiators of one state will be similar to the diplomatic negotiators of another state.

My previous research argued that in certain contexts, such as during extended subject-specific negotiations, negotiation style is less apparent - that there is a universal style. My current research, which looks at the experiences of Pakistani negotiators' experiences with South Korea, goes the other way. I argue that in certain contexts, not only is there a particular style, but that the particular style is highly dependent upon the negotiation partner and the relationship between the two states. 

We are so used to reading texts on negotiating style written from a Western, usually American perspective that we blindly accept findings based on the experience of US negotiators. What my research finds is that these texts are essentially useless - unless you are in fact American. Negotiation style depends heavily upon context.


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