“It is very obvious that we are not influenced by facts, but by our interpretation of the facts,” Alfred Adler, the famous psychologist and founder of the School of Individual Psychology, once said.

What builds the framework for this interpretation of facts?

Our culture.

Although differing frameworks of interpretation can sometimes result in humor – like when you’re traveling in a foreign country, and you make an innocent flub – they can also cause serious interpersonal and financial consequences in business.

Take, for instance, the negotiations between two managers: one Russian, one Swiss.

Swiss Framework

Two managers – one Swiss, one Russian – are discussing the plans for a collaborative project. And things aren’t going so well.

The Swiss value the long-term relationship. They like calm problem-solving, nonconfrontational discourse; they appreciate compromise in negotiations. This is seen in every level of Swiss society, from business to politics. Switzerland has one of the only governments which employs ministers from all major parties.

This is why the Swiss preference in negotiations is the win-win strategy. They believe in compromise and goodwill in business. If they demonstrate to their partners that they are willing to compromise in the beginning, they are projecting a promising future cooperation and long-term success in the partnership.

Thus, the Swiss manager offers the Russian concessions in the early stages of their negotiations.

Russian Framework

Russians oppose the win-win strategy. In some ways, they see both sides winning as a loss, because they always want to come out on top. Confrontation shows strength and power, in their minds.

Therefore, confrontational and uncompromising discourse is what drives Russian conflict resolution – and the resolution is that the winner takes all. If their opponent concedes at all, this is seen as a sign of weakness, not one of goodwill.

Hint: if you concede early on with the idea that your Russian counterpart will work with you, you shouldn’t expect your concessions to be reciprocated.

Swiss vs. Russian Framework

Watch as the Swiss manager, in alignment with his cultural norm, offers a concession at the beginning of the negotiation, expecting the Russian manager to understand the gesture as one of goodwill.

What do you think the Russian response will be?

The Russian will take this concession and give nothing back. He will probably believe his Swiss partner is in a weak negotiating position or is just plain weak, altogether.

Instead of crediting the Swiss manager for the offer of goodwill, he credits himself for his tough negotiating strategy. He believes he “won.”

Without any concessions being returned to him, the Swiss manager is now in a weakened position. He might reconsider the project and the partnership. And, thus, the business partnership falls apart.

This is what bad cross-cultural management looks like. Next week, we’ll talk about the alternative.

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