Seeing eye to eye

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Nikhil Patel examines the role of trust and cultural perception in the game of negotiation

An article I read recently referred to a study conducted by the Kellogg School of Management on the profound influence that culture has on negotiating styles. As a large portion of my time is spent on negotiations for various contracts, settlements and risk management solutions, this was of particular interest to me.

The study focused on differences between Indian and US styles of negotiation. In general, it found Indians less trusting than their American counterparts, which allegedly resulted in poorer joint gains. Most of my Indian colleagues thought that it was the other way around – that others were reluctant to trust Indian parties. One colleague voiced the general view that Indians had to work harder to build trust in multicultural situations and were always suspected of concealing facts.

Nikhil_Patel_
Nikhil Patel

A non-Indian colleague of mine, when speaking about an India-based team, stated that every time there was a problem and she did some digging, she found something was being withheld from her. This perception seems common among my foreign colleagues.

I attribute a lot of the gap to simple misunderstanding. A few years ago, I was working with a foreign company that was doing a fairly large deal with an Indian multinational. During the course of the negotiation there was a point that my colleague and I interpreted completely differently, perhaps because my view was from an Indian perspective. I paused the negotiation, muted the phone line, and explained that what my colleague had heard was perhaps not what was meant. He agreed to clarify the situation. The dust finally settled, but neither side had really understood the others’ interpretation of events and the misunderstanding continued to exist. To solve the problem, we had to draft the agreement while listening carefully to conference calls to ensure that both parties were aligned on what was being put into the agreement.

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NIKHIL PATEL is the senior legal counsel at DSM Sinochem Pharmaceuticals in The Hague. He was previously chief legal officer for Cipla Medpro in Cape Town and has also worked in India at Himatsingka Seide, Biocon and Suzlon Energy.