Understanding How Culture Affects Negotiation

Culture is ingrained in every aspect of life and plays an integral role in decision making, day-to-day interactions, and how we approach situations. Culture shapes our thoughts, perceptions and receiving attitudes, and has a direct impact in the workplace. It can affect key results and help with the negotiation process, securing deals and ensuring success.

To better understand how cultural differences influences behaviour, and as a result impacts negotiations, The Gap Partnership identifies six dimensions of culture. These six dimensions observe attitudes and behaviours associated with culture.

Understanding The Six Dimensions

Principle or pragmatism, the first of the dimensions, concerns itself with the inner conflict an individual faces when navigating between principles: the extent to which a culture is governed by laws, codes, or rules pragmatism where decisions are made on exceptions, or issues. Identifying how both sides of the negotiation compare on this spectrum will help you identify how likely your opponent is to accept proposals outside of the usual norm or rules.

Individual or community, is the concept that focuses on where an individuals values lie. Are they focused on competition, self-reliance and personal fulfilment, as is the case of individual? Or is your negotiating partner community inclined, with a focus on collaboration, social-wellbeing, and group harmony? Understanding this spectrum will allow you to foresee how decision-making will be approached, or where their overall goals may be oriented.

Specific or diffused, refers to the extent to which differing roles in life are viewed as separate, or viewed as one. Specific cultures view different roles in an individual’s life as separate, whereas diffused culture sees all roles as one, and every aspect of your life contributes to that one role. This will directly affect perceptions and attitudes towards relationships, which in turn may affect the opposing side’s views on you, influencing their willingness to negotiate, concede, or openly communicate.

Achievement and esteem dimensions are concerned with status determination. In an achievement-oriented society, status will be based on accomplishments in life. Conversely, in an esteem society, status will be conferred to people according to certain accepted criteria. This may be age, class, or education. This may be a particularly important aspect to a culture, for example in many Asian cultures where elders are regarded and treated with greater respect. This may affect your negotiating partner’s behaviour towards you and yours toward them. It is important to understand this spectrum and the relative importance given to it, to be able to adjust attitude accordingly and avoid conflict deriving from insult.


Inner direction and outer direction concern themselves with the degree to which an individual is believed to have the authority to determine their own fate. Outer direction cultures tend to adapt, making changes according to the environment in which they operate. Inner direction cultures will seek to adapt the outside environment to them.

Sequential and cyclical refer to how time is viewed. Sequential cultures view time as a series of discreet passing events. Conversely, cyclical will have a more holistic view. This will directly affect the way in which both sides want to conduct the negotiation, specifically, the topics and the order of approach.

How does culture affect negotiations?

It is important to understand that, whilst the principles of negotiation will always remain the same, culture will affect the process by which principles are applied. To be a skilled negotiator, you must be able to plan strategically. To do this, it is first important through experience and negotiation training and courses, to understand the opposing side, as it will make the strategy developing process much easier.

However, don’t forget to factor in power. Power balance is key to determine which strategy to take. Identify where dependency lies, if at all, and where dependency is limited, be wary of allowing your thinking to be manipulated by any perceived cultural difference. Approach the negotiation like you would any other. Prepare, predict, and plan.





































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