Cross Cultural Communication Competency In The Geocentric Negotiation
Spitzberg and Cupach (1984) define communication competency as the ability to achieve your goals while you fulfill relational and situational expectations (as cited in Cupach & Canary, 1997). Spitzberg and Cupach contend that communication competency is primarily comprised of two dimensions, appropriateness (meeting social expectations and social rules) and effectiveness (achieving one’s goals). Understanding the individual’s role in cross-cultural communication has gained the attention of several researchers (Gudykunst, 1998; Ting-Toomey, 1988).Gudykunst as well as others (Klopf, 2001; Ting-Toomey, 1988) have given us a framework for examining the role that general cultural dimensions play in the communication process. Gudykunst, in his 1998 book titled Bridging Differences: Effective Intergroup Communication, concludes that “culture influences our communication and our communication influences our cultures” (p. 44). Therefore, an individual’s cross-cultural communication is important in providing communication guidelines for how specific cultures and nations talk. Neither cultural level of competency nor the individual level of competency is adequate to reflect the new multicultural phenomena occurring in our global market. Therefore, a richer understanding of global negotiation will result from an integrative approach (individual factors and cultural factors). Thus, viewing cross-cultural communication in global negotiations offers important perspectives for the new global market.
Negotiator communication competency is essential for understanding the role that communication plays in global negotiations. The benefits of moving from a cultural generality model to a geocentric model that includes the individual negotiators’ cross-cultural communication is greatly beneficial for several reasons. This essay will concentrate on the role of cross cultural communication competency in geocentric negotiation.
The case study is based on the author imagination working as a communication officer in governance unit at the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in Indonesia. The structure of the organization is real provided by web-research and for some extent, author experience dealing with cross-cultural issues in home country- Saudi Arabia. UNDP is the UN’s global development network, an organization advocating for change and connecting countries to knowledge, experience and resources to help people build a better life. UNDP existed in 166 countries, working with them on their own solutions to global and national development challenges.
In Indonesia, according to their website , UNDP has 5 main pillars to support the initiatives and provided the basis for Indonesia’s new country cooperation framework. Those 5 pillars are: governance reforms, Pro-poor policy reforms, conflict prevention and recovery, environmental management and the last one is program management and learning unit.
Governance reforms ( in short governance unit) , the place I imagined to work, is the unit to promote good governance in all its aspects, to include ensuring the rule of law, to improve the efficiency and accountability of the public sector, and to eliminate corrupt practices is an essential element to the achievement of sustainable development. UNDP’s Governance Program endeavors to support Indonesia in improving the management of its public resources and enhancing public sector accountability and transparency and developing greater public awareness about the need for and requirements of good governance. In short, the governance cluster consisted of 6 units of deepening democracy, access to justice, electoral support, parliamentary support, Indonesian democracy index, partnership for e-prosperity for the poor.
The communication officers and manager were reporting straight to the head of governance in collaboration with other UNDP Communications team. Our tasks were specifically to handle deepening democracy, access to justice and electoral support programs. There were two communication officers including me. The other one is national communication officer filled up by Indonesian national. Although we were almost doing similar job description, the main distinctive tasks carried by national communication officer was that he needs to liaise with national/Indonesian medias (print/audio-visual media) about UNDP’ governance unit mission. Both of us were reporting to Communications Manager headed by young Swedish woman in the early 30’s attached politically to the UNDP Indonesia as part of Sweden-UNDP leadership program funded by the Swedish government. The governance unit was headed by Indonesian citizen.
As an international communication officer, I was -among other things- responsible for as listed below: developed and implemented communications and advocacy strategy and action plan, expanded and implemented a public information strategy to articulate UNDP’s role in helping Indonesia to achieve the Millennium Development Goal (MDGs) through print as well as audio/visual media, and developed and maintained a network of media contacts, as well as contacts in the government and civil society to foster better public understanding of UNDP. The work implies to include governments, bilateral, multilateral donor agencies, policy makers, partners organizations, academic institutions.
The most interesting part I would like to point out, our projects rates we were handling considered low/below the pass point considered by the UNDP panel. The head of governance unit was always pointing on these. She pointed out among all the three projects that we handled, all of them considered nearly failed (the projects did not deliver the agreed outputs (as promised in the TOR), our government counterpart was not happy – this was brought up to the donors coordination meeting which was bringing significant impact on budgets streamline and further sustainability of the project life cycle).
To assessing the failure, I employed 5 factors in order to analyse the cross-cultural communication competency in geocentric negotiation. The key components for developing cross-cultural communication in geocentric negotiations are appropriateness, effectiveness, adaptation component, mindfulness or being presence, and knowledge. These components are compiled from many authors and discussed in the next section.
Appropriateness is the ability to communicate with someone in a socially sensitive manner so as not to offend or break any rules that would result in insult, face threat, or rudeness. Communication appropriateness involves considering a variety of strategies and the communication constraints that exist within a specific communication context. Message selection and strategy for communicating are guided by these constraints, or rules. Embedded in the cultural norms and rules is the appropriateness of certain types of behaviors and the manner in which we communicate. Philipsen’s (1992, 1997) speech codes theory posits that in order to understand communication, one must understand the cultural speech codes (“a system of socially-constructed symbols and meanings, premises, and rules, pertaining to communicative conduct”) (Philipsen, 1997, p. 126). The socially constructed symbols and meanings are culturally distinctive codes for interpreting and explaining intercultural communication. Therefore, when communicating in the international negotiation context, one must consider the norms, rules, and expectations and how these are determined by an accumulation of culture and regional or subculture, organizational culture, and individual personality, as well as any previous negotiation experiences.
In the case of UNDP, advocating our mission sometime is not that easy. Dealing with government of Indonesia which culturally differs is sometime need an extra effort to understand its culture. For example, in the access to justice cluster, the UNDP would like to help the government by dispatching an international expert from Russia to help to strengthen the democracy and electoral sector in Indonesia. This offer was finally accepted but technically “rejected” by the authority of justice department and NGOs in Indonesia by saying:
“ Why we need to learn about democracy from an expert from Russia? Look at what happen with former USSR/Russia nowadays?
Another comment from the senior official: “what we need is someone who can understand what the authority wants….and it is could be happened when the UNDP consult their ideas on the nitty-gritty things to us…not just dispatch someone without any further arrangement…..”
There is nothing wrong with the qualifications and experiences of the Russian expert, a PhD graduated with 20 years experiences. However, in this scenario, the governance cluster/ communication unit of UNDP failed to understand the socio- organization aspect and the impact of hiring the Russian expert. We never told the Indonesian government that we would hired someone from Russia during negotiation of the project’ TOR with them. Although, the reasons stated above are the “unofficial statement” by the local authority, we had the impression that the Indonesian agencies were not pleased on the ‘UNDP ways’ on hiring someone without prior mutual agreement.
How we “effectively” achieve our goals is a vital part of the global business negotiation. Spitzberg and Cupach (1989) defined effectiveness as “successful goal achievement or accomplishment” (p. 7). How we attempt to reach effectiveness is related to our ability to maximize our rewards and minimize our costs. Effectiveness is the ability to achieve your goals through the communication process. Specifically, an individual must be able to maximize his or her potential for achieving his or her goals by selecting strategies that will allow the individual to achieve his or her success through interaction. Effective strategy selection is critical for clear communication in intercultural settings. M. Kim (1994) argues that strategic competency entails a person’s ability to select an effective message that allows the other party to derive the intended meaning. However, Kim and Wilson (1994) conclude that “different cultural groups have drastically different ideas about what constitutes an effective strategy” (p. 229). Thus, any discussion of effectiveness must consider that cultural perspectives influence the strategy choice and perception of the effectiveness of that strategy. Western cultures generally view efficiency, or time required to reach an agreement, as an important consideration in measuring effectiveness. However, this may not hold true for other cultures or individuals who do not share the same value of time.
In the UNDP case, I was sent to the Indonesia’ National Development Planning Agency to negotiate on the project document that need to have co-signature from the Indonesian side. It was expected to have it on the next 10 days since we were in the closing on financial year and all the money need to be spent by then. Since that was my first time, I didn’t expected to much and realized after meeting them that the National Development Planning Agency need at least 2 to 3 months to get approval/signature on the project document. I spent sometime to introduce my self, understand the culture of the organization, get to know each other and develop our relationship. As an international staff, I have no problem on developing our relationship since we have similar background (the same religion (Muslim) background). However, still, goal attainment was not achieved because our perception of effective use of time is very different. This situation requires us to acquire an understanding of the other party’s values and sense of organization culture in order for either to be effective in achieving goals. More than likely, each will leave dissatisfied, and a business opportunity may be lost.
3. Adaptation Component
Adaptation is often referred to as the adjustment to a new or unfamiliar to accept another culture’s customs or worldview. Bennett and Bennett (2004) argue that “adaptation occurs when we need to think or act outside of our own cultural context” (p. 156). Adaptability is often referred to as behavioral flexibility (Bochner & Kelly, 1974; Spitzberg & Cupach, 1989). Having a diverse behavioral repertoire and knowing when to use it is key to adaptability in new situations.
The global environment requires us to think beyond the short-term outcome to the development of long-term relationships and even partnerships for survival in the global community. The development of a “third culture” effect is highly likely if negotiating parties adapt and integrate their cultures’ identities. This shift in identity happens over a period of successful and not-so-successful interactions in negotiation. As a result of this mutual adaptation in communication behavior, parties can then move to a discussion that reflects a transactional communication process that creates the third-culture phenomenon.
In this case, as an international staff, I wasn’t cleared on the Indonesian cultural tradition at that point. I believe this was happened to our Swedish communication manager. We (the three of us to include national communication officer) were often arguing to almost everything, to get the business done in our different ways. I brought my Arabic tradition with me so did the manager herself with her European style. We never actually listened to our national colleague. What even worse, this was impacting to our long-term relationships as we had never solved this problem in the professional way- not even succeed in the creation of the “third-culture” phenomenon.
4. Mindfulness or Being Present
Mindfulness is a key factor in becoming interculturally communication competent (Langer, 1989; Ting-Toomey, 1999). Mindfulness, as described by Langer (1989), involves developing new categories, being open to new information, and being more aware of others’ perspectives (p. 62). The concept of mindfulness is relatively new to Westerners, but many Eastern cultures embrace mindfulness as part of their cognitive practice in communicating with others. We have used the words be present in communicating and negotiating with others. Oftentimes we are thinking ahead to the next point we want to make or what strategy we will use, or we are even evaluating the individual’s clothes instead of listening to the words and watching the expressions on the other party’s face. Being present requires us to not think about ourselves, nor to be distracted by external psychological or environmental noises, but rather to search for meaning and commonness with the other person. The mindfulness of communication is choosing language that has taken into consideration the other person’s culture, interacting with a multicultural identity, and embracing opportunities to act verbally and nonverbally in a reciprocal and thoughtful way. Mindfulness and presence are essential parts of the global business negotiation and are critical for creative and competent global business negotiators.
When we had a meeting to negotiate on the some communication strategies issues with the Indonesian’ interior ministry, our communication manager was not aware on the situation. She insisted that the local authority need to follow UNDP agenda on terrorisms (as agreed by our head-quarter in New York). She spoke with the big tone and with aggressive style, which defined her typical western style. What she did not realize that she was speaking with some of the old school-high ranking government officials – who feel offended with her style. In Indonesian culture, these manners were not accepted. In their tradition, outsider need to convey their agenda in the respectful manners – especially to someone
“older”, it would be appreciated it if they can speak in slow tone and not being too aggressive. From my experience, being cheerful and funny are also helpful- in the negotiating with the Indonesian counterpart.
Knowledge about the other person’s culture is a critical component of cross-cultural communication. To truly share in meaningful discourse in intercultural negotiations, we must have knowledge about the other’s religion, customs, values, language, and linguistic and politeness strategies. Knowing how and when to speak and how to read, and being able to mindfully listen and understand the other culture’s language is another important aspect (Redmond, 2000). Research has shown that fluency in speaking the other party’s language is important in effective communication (Martin & Hammer, 1989; Ting-Toomey & Korzenny, 1989).
Among three of us, only the national staff can speak bahasa Indonesia. We could not be able to speak bahasa nor the interest to learn it. This was give significant impact on negotiating with the Indonesian counterpart. The Indonesian authority would definitely respect the strangers whom speak their language as their ability to speak English is also limited. This was proven when some international UNDP staff from different unit (who can speak and understand bahasa Indonesia fluently as well as understood the interpretation of culture) had a chance to work with us in dealing with the local authority. The deal was smoother with not much problem in the process. The local authority was pleased and also surprised with the way our counterpart can present everything in very locally manner. As they said…..” think globally, act locally..”
Best Practice Guidelines
There are 6 communication guidelines that should be followed when entering into global negotiations. Competency is the most important factor for obtaining a successful agreement.
1. The necessary information on the other party’s culture, style and the negotiation process to communicate verbally, non-verbally
2. The ability to establish and share interests with other party ( bear in mind that relationship is interpreted differently in various culture – In Indonesia, formal and hierarchical structure is an important component whereas in the United States more towards into informal and equal status)
3. The ability of mastering the other party’s native language and the interpretation of meaning
4. Goals I want to achieve in the negotiation together with the diverse strategies and tactics
5. Flexible on the behaviors and comfortable using them
6. Stay focus and able to interact with others without making judgments/evaluation
Assessing Competency in the workplace
I contend that cross-cultural communication is influenced by individual predispositional factors (e.g., communication apprehension, argumentativeness, etc.). However, more important is the negotiator’s specific knowledge, skill, and motivation (Rubin, 1985; Spitzberg, 1983) for communicating internationally. Knowledge, skill, and motivation are necessary criteria for cross-cultural communication. Communication norms are culture-bound, and therefore competency is a function of culture and it is how we are evaluated in the interaction that ultimately determines cross-cultural communication. As Phillips comments, “‘competence’ is not a ‘thing.’ It is an evaluation” (1983, p. 25). We now turn to how these components lead to communication competent negotiators. To be a competent intercultural communicator requires knowledge and performance or, put another way, cognitive ability as well as skill. Without knowledge (e.g., linguistic, ontological, cultural, negotiation), skill (e.g., appropriate and effective), or motivation (e.g., , communication apprehension), communication competency is not likely to be achieved.
The key to successful cross-cultural communication is that one must be motivated, knowledgeable, and skilled to be a successful and competent communicator in the global marketplace. These three general factors are interrelated in that a deficiency in one impacts at least one of the other components. The deficiency reduces the likelihood of achieving a high level of cross-cultural communication. Spitzberg (1991) points out in his model of interpersonal communication competency that there is an additive effect of these three factors, resulting in “communication satisfaction, perceived confirmation, and conversational appropriateness and effectiveness” (p. 22).
Much of the discussion to this point has focused on each individual element that enhances a negotiator’s cross-cultural communication. Intercultural communication competency is both an individual-based and interaction-based concept. The individual’s skills and predispositions may help him or her achieve a higher level of competency, but it is the interaction that occurs between the negotiating parties that ultimately determines cross-cultural communication. An individual can have all the training, knowledge, and motivation to communicate, yet fail in communicating competently with another. The interactional effect created by the two parties ultimately determines competency. Thus, although this essay presents key factors in optimizing cross-cultural communication for the individual, we must always be cognizant of the dynamics of discourse, especially in intercultural problem-solving settings such as global negotiations. Ultimately, cross-cultural communication in the negotiation is heavily reliant on the mutual understanding of the negotiation process and the other person. In addition, we must also recognize that communication competency is conceptualized differently in other cultures. We have addressed the common elements in communicating in intercultural negotiations. Sensitivity to how different cultures conceptualize communication competency within their own culture is always an important variable.
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