Resources: Notes on Life and Language in the United States

How to Negotiate with Americans....and Win!

Posted by Lindsay McMahon on Tue, Jul 17, 2012 @ 07:08 AM

 how to negotiate with Americans and winAs an international professional working in the United States, let's imagine that you are about to negotiate with your American clients for a new project.

It is your first time negotiating in your job in the United States but you are feeling confident.

If you win the deal, the project will be huge. It will send your company over the edge in terms of revenue. It will also get you a huge promotion.

You have done your preparation by asking the right questions.

You know everything about your company's interests and your client's interests and concerns.

You know your goal and you have even created some potential combinations of prices, time frames and add-ons that would create value for both parties.

You can't wait to get started. But there's just one problem.

If you don't know what I am talking about, you are about to lose the deal.

The problem is that you are not negotiating with people from your home culture.

You are negotiating with Americans! If you haven't learned about how Americans like to negotiate and you haven't even thought about how you like to negotiate, you are going in blind.

Your "preparation" is now showing serious holes. It's time to go back to the drawing board!


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4 things you need to know to negotiate with Americans


negotiate with americans time urgency1. They have a sense of time urgency: For Americans, time is money. They want results and they want them quickly. They do not want to negotiate for a long, extended period of time. Do you know how you can use this insight to gain an edge in your negotiation? Try to extend the amount of time that the negotiation takes. They might be more likely to make concessions.

2. They are informal: You might expect Americans to dress more formally for a negotiation but they probably won't. In the land of "casual Fridays" formality is not as much of a priority as it is in other cultures. What should you do? Don't be thrown off if they are dressed casually. Don't take it as a sign of disrespect.

3. Age doesn't necessarily indicate status: In your negotiation with an American company, you might find yourself head to head with a young prodigy no more than 30 years of age. Being promoted in the American workplace is often more about having skills than having a certain number of years with the company under your belt.

4. They hate silence: This is an area that you can capitalize on if you are from a culture like Japan, where silence is used as a strategic and conscious choice.

5. They will interrupt you: As American culture is less structured around hierarchy, the floor is often open for anyone to contribute. There is not an order that people need to follow in terms of who talks when. If you are negotiating as a group, be ready for contributions from anyone, at any time and expect to be interrupted and cut off. To Americans, this is not necessarily rude. It means they are engaged and actively participating, perhaps passionate about the negotiation.



Do you know what your negotiation style is?


 culture and negotiation saving face, business man with glasses1. How important is "saving face" for you? In many cultures like Japan or China, saving face (not being embarrassed/shamed and not embarrassing others) is the key to maintaining harmony between people. Is this a top priority for you? You should recognize that it probably won't be a priority for your American opponent. Be ready for that.

2. Do you plan to use historical events against your opponent? Maybe your company has a history with this client. Maybe mistakes were made in the past and history is on your side. A common negotiating tactic in China is to refer to historical events where the company or even the country has been wronged, link that to the present situation and to use that as leverage to get concessions form the other side. If this is a typical tactic for you, keep in mind that it might not be as effective with your American clients.

3. How do you communicate your point of view? In many Asian cultures, the message is not explicitly stated in the words that are voiced. Instead, the message is implied through nonverbal gestures, head turns, smiles, or silence.  Is this the way you communicate? If so, this probably won't work in a negotiation situation with Americans.  If your point isn't understood, change your strategy and be explicit about what you are trying to say.

4. How comfortable are you with direct eye contact? In many cultures, extended direct eye contact is offensive or even aggressive. Some cultures look down or maintain limited eye contact because they want to show respect. In the U.S., direct eye contact means you are trustworthy, confident and in control. If you have a very different idea of what eye contact means, be aware that this could create a challenge in your negotiation with Americans.


Did you catch the first article in this series? If not, check it out here: Negotiating in English: 7 Ways to Gather Information.

Don't miss our next article on negotiation strategies! We will give you 3 strategies for a successful negotiation and the English phrases that you need to use them!


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Photo credit:rogerimp, jontangerine,   acorn

Topics: United States Culture, Intercultural Communication

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