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Impact Of Culture On Negotiation Cultural Studies Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Cultural Studies
Wordcount: 2363 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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’12 Angry Men’ happens to be one of the most apt examples for understanding the cultural diversity of a particular group. Twelve men from totally diverse backgrounds come together to give their verdict on a case and it has to be a unanimous decision. In the end, they do reach a consensus. But what is interesting for our study is the process through which they pass to reach this consensus. The dialogue quoted above is one of the many clashes that occur between the jurors before casting the final vote. The process reflects the conflict between the cultures of the twelve jurors as clearly, culture of each juror did not match with the others. (Source!!)

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Culture is an integral part of conflict resolution. The way each party in a dispute thinks, behaves, reacts in front of the other in the negotiation can be attributed to the culture that the party carries in itself. In certain cases, culture can be the deciding factor as to whether the conflict resolution will work or not. Amidst all issues connected with the international negotiations the one that has been attracting the most attention has been the influence of culture on negotiation. This essay makes an attempt to understand the meaning of culture, study the various factors surrounding and influencing it and then highlight the importance of the same in negotiation. The ultimate aim of this essay is to try and provide an insight into the aspects of cross-cultural negotiation thereby preventing the reader from underestimating the importance of culture in any negotiation.

Meaning of Culture:

To determine the meaning of culture, we first need to appreciate a few definitions which have been widely acknowledged and used to understand the various aspects of culture and then observe the characteristics of culture.

A] Definitions:

1) Edward Tylor (1871):

“Culture is that complex whole which includes knowledge, belief, art, law, morals, custom and any other capabilities and habits acquired by man as a member of the society.”

This is the foremost attempt made to define culture and was subsequently used as a model to rely upon and improvise the definition by several anthropologists and sociologists. The terms like ‘knowledge’, ‘belief’, ‘art’, ‘law’, ‘morals’, ‘custom’, etc. demonstrate the wide ambit of culture through Tylor’s perspective.

2) Clyde Kluckhohn (1951):

“Culture consists in patterned ways of thinking, feeling and reacting, acquired and transmitted mainly by symbols, constituting the distinctive achievement of human groups, including their embodiments in artefacts; the essential core of culture consists of traditional (i.e. historically deprived and selected) ideas and especially their attached values.”

This definition is quite comprehensive as culture has been composed of both values and beliefs. Kluckhohn adds special importance to the aspect of traditional ideas and attached values which emphasize on the preserved behaviour of an individual which passes on from one generation to the other.

3) Geert Hofstede (1991):

“Culture is the collective programming of the mind which distinguishes the members of one group or category of people from another.”

Hofstede suggests that patterns of thinking, feeling, and potential acting which were learnt throughout a lifetime of a person are mental programs, i.e. software of the mind and the customary term for such mental software is culture. Although it is not very evident from the definition, Hofstede gives a lot of importance to values while determining the meaning of culture which is addressed further in the essay.

B] Characteristics:

Michelle LeBaron in her article has mentioned certain ‘complications in working with cultural dimensions of conflict, and the implications that flow from them’. For our purpose, these complications can be treated as characteristics of culture as culture is a complex whole. They are:

1) Culture is multi-layered — what you see on the surface may mask differences below the surface;

2) Culture is constantly in flux — as conditions change, cultural groups adapt in dynamic and sometimes unpredictable ways;

3) Culture is elastic — knowing the cultural norms of a given group does not predict the behaviour of a member of that group, who may not conform to norms for individual or contextual reasons;

4) Culture is largely below the surface, influencing identities and meaning-making, or who we believe ourselves to be and what we care about — it is not easy to access these symbolic levels since they are largely outside our awareness; and

5) Cultural influences and identities become important depending on context. When an aspect of cultural identity is threatened or misunderstood, it may become relatively more important than other cultural identities and this fixed, narrow identity may become the focus of stereotyping, negative projection, and conflict.

Culture is dynamic, not timeless or changeless. It is a starting point that orients us in particular ways and away from other directions.

As quoted by Raymond Williams, “Culture is one of the two or three most complicated words in the English language”. Looking at the various dimensions which have been brought under the definitions mentioned above, we can comprehend that the term ‘culture’ is inexhaustible. We can conclude by saying that every notion that the human mind emerges with can be ascertained as a part of culture. Whether that notion subsequently becomes an activity or simply remains a thought is irrelevant. It can be said that culture sets the pattern in which these notions materialize in an individual’s mind.

Factors surrounding and influencing culture: (Raymond Cohen, Robert janosik, hofstede?)

Normally, the most instant thought that occurs in one’s mind when he or she thinks of culture is the national identity. Horacio Falcao is of the opinion that people underestimate cross-cultural negotiation. They tend to only look at national culture when they go to international negotiations. There is also educational culture, race culture, gender culture, religious culture and these cultures also impact the way people behave, think and communicate. There are numerous other factors which form a part of the culture or invariably affect the way a cultural pattern is developed in a person. Although the pace of cultural change naturally varies from one group to another, cultures evolve in reaction to many factors, from trends such as urbanization, globalization, or modernization to specific historical experiences, including the influence of other cultures, and even, occasionally, government policies.

Each individual has a culture. In fact, each individual has potentially several cultures. The culture groups may share race, ethnicity, or nationality. But they also arise from cleavages of generation, socioeconomic class, sexual orientation, ability and disability, political and religious affiliation, language and gender – to name only a few.

The most widely recognised and discussed components of a cultural pattern are beliefs, values and norms. According to Myron W. Lustig and Jolene Koester, “Culture is a learned set of shared interpretation about beliefs, values and norms, which affect the behaviours of a relatively large group of people.” Norms are the outward manifestations of beliefs and values; they are evident through behaviours and can be readily observed. While beliefs tap on ‘what is true’, values tap on ‘what is important’. Shalom Schwartz conducted a survey – Schwartz Value Inventory (SVI) by involving 60,000 people to identify the values which are commonly prioritised by people. Even Hofstede is of the opinion that mental programs can include a lot of things, from religious beliefs, food preferences, and aesthetic choices to attitudes toward authority. He has categorised these things under symbols, heroes, rituals and values in which symbols are the most specific and values are the most general components. He suggests that values are the innermost core of an individual’s culture as symbols, heroes and rituals represent the layers of culture that are visible to outsiders.

Cohen understands culture by addressing three key aspects which are widely quoted and recognised:

1) It is a societal and not an individualistic quality,

2) It is acquired and not genetic, and

3) Its attributes cover every area of social life.

Hence, we can see that culture is not just surrounded by national identity or a certain geographical background but other more profound and intangible factors like values, beliefs, ideas also play a significant role in developing a culture.

How Cultures affect Negotiation:

Every negotiation is a cross-cultural exercise”. Each of us belongs to multiple cultures that give us messages about what is normal, appropriate and expected. When others do not meet our expectations, it is often a cue that our cultural expectations are different. This is where the actual conflict arises.

Several anthropologists and sociologists have written extensively about the effect that culture has on negotiation. We will look at the prominent work by a few of them. Robert Janosik has derived four distinct approaches to understand the impact of culture on negotiation. First, culture is a learned behaviour. It focuses on actions without giving much attention to the reasons behind those actions. Second, culture is a matter of shared basic values. This approach assumes that ‘thinking precedes doing’ and that one’s thinking patterns derive from his cultural context. Third, culture is shaped by the dialectic tension between paired, opposing values like individualism and collectivism, idealism and pragmatism, etc. And fourth, culture draws on a systems theory and offers multi-causal explanations of negotiation behaviour.

Hoftsede and his five dimensions on which country cultures differ are discussed extensively in many subsequently published papers and books. According to him, these five dimensions reflect basic problems that any society has to cope with but for which solutions differ. These five dimensions are:

1) Power Distance:

This dimension is explained by emphasizing on human inequality. The degree of acceptance of the unequal distribution of power can vary among different cultures.

2) Uncertainty Avoidance,

3) Individualism and Collectivism,

4) Masculinity and Feminity, and

5) Long-term and Short-term Orientation.

Culture affects different varieties of negotiation differently depending on such factors as the particular objectives, the number of parties, and the extent to which the cultures clash or complement one another. The manner in which culture affects negotiation is further complicated since individuals differ in the extent to which they exhibit cultural influences. Since personalities, training and other variables independent of culture come into play, people reflect to varying degrees certain of the values, attitudes, and beliefs of their ethnicity, nationality, religion, profession, or occupation. The extent to which cultural factors are likely to pose additional obstacles for an international negotiation will depend upon the individuals involved as well as the cultures and circumstances at issue.

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Culture may deeply affect the dynamics within a negotiating team – whether formal or informal, egalitarian or highly conscious of rank. It may affect the team’s propensity to share information directly, avoid disclosing it, or reveal it only indirectly, for instance, through communicating multiple offers through which preferences and priorities might be inferred. Ethical norms associated with negotiation frequently vary among cultures, with lies and deception, bribery and bluffing viewed quite differently.

Although the national culture and its elements have been mentioned above, the factor of language deserves to be noted separately. One function of language is to structure reality and to order experience. Therefore, the language of an individual significantly influences his or her perceptions and thinking. Certain ideas or concepts are linguistically culture-bound in that no equivalent exists in other languages. Literal translation of terms from one language to the other can lead to grave miscommunication and can affect the whole interaction between the negotiating parties deeply. For example: when Chevrolet introduced the Nova in South America, they were apparently unaware that in Spanish “No va” means “It won’t go.”

Thus, all the factors mentioned are not just important while dealing with international negotiations but domestic negotiations as well.

Summary and Conclusions:

Just like Hofstede’s Onion where value lies at the extreme core of culture, culture happens to lie at the extreme core of negotiation. Even if we were to assume a perfect situation where just everything is right with the actual paperwork and the statistics of the deal on each side of the negotiation, but if the culture of the other party is not understood, then it would not turn to out to be a successful negotiation. To be successful in the international negotiation arena, negotiators need to develop high sensitivity to cultural factors, identify and pursue a culturally responsive strategy most appropriate in a given negotiation setting but at the same time acknowledge and consider also individual and structural aspects occurring in this setting.

A person would be able to negotiate and persuade the other negotiating party better if he is aware of the cultural difference that both of them might have.


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