One of the questions we often ask international professionals is whether they prepare for negotiations differently when they know that they will be negotiating with North Americans. Their answers generally center on the fact that Americans prepare well for their negotiations, and so they must also prepare well. Compare, for example, the opinions of the following executives who were discussing their negotiation preparations. Thomas Zhuang is from Shanghai, but currently lives in Honolulu. Jordi Planas lives on the outskirts of Barcelona, Spain.
Everyone knows that you do not fight a war for which you are not prepared. Chinese people take this point very seriously. Our own Sun Tzi, author of The Art of War said, “Know yourself and know your enemy, then in a hundred battles there will be no danger of defeat.” Therefore, when our company holds talks with Americans, we spend a great deal of time doing early-stage preparatory work. Comparatively speaking, American society is pretty open, so you can collect information through different web pages and search engines. You can find a lot pertaining to US companies and what their business is, as well as a lot on international standards and regulations. Therefore, in this aspect, one must be extremely meticulous in doing the job. This is the only way can you guarantee your understanding of the situation. In this way you are able to be even better in fighting wars for which you are prepared. You will be certain of doing well.
In our experience the most important differences in organizing things before beginning meetings, as related to business strategies when dealing with Spanish companies and American companies, is the American’s greater degree of organization and preparation for the interviews. This includes a detailed agenda with clear objectives that they follow in a logical order throughout the negotiation process. On the other hand, unexpected changes or any new items that come up that differ from their pre-established negotiation strategies cause nervous problems and great changes in their ability. They prefer to go back and look at the topic again with a new analysis of the situation and then make a new agenda that is takes into account the new changes that have happened. Frequently this implies a delay in decision-making as related to topics that we are working on together.
Don’t you love that a Chinese professional quotes The Art of War as a way of describing his preparation for negotiations? Mr. Zhuang’s main point is clear. Since Americans prepare well for their negotiations, he must be prepared too. Mr. Planas agrees that Americans prepare well for their negotiations, but they are less adept at being flexible when problems arise. This is a common observation about Americans. Whether this is true or not is not the point. There is an ingrained perception that despite initial preparation, North Americans are less adept at being flexible and at changing things on the fly.