Although I had intended to write this posting about how we need to be careful when we are documenting sales negotiations with people from other countries, I slowly realized that we need to be just as careful with folks who were brought up in the same country as us.
So what’s the big deal about words – can’t people just speak clearly and let it be that? As long as you don’t use long fancy words, won’t everyone understand what you mean? It turns out that the answer is no.
I think one of the best examples of this was set by the professional negotiators who brokered the 1979 peace accord between Israel and Egypt. After everyone had finally verbally agreed to all of the terms, the papers documenting the agreement were drawn up. However, there wasn’t just one set of papers. Rather, there were four.
All of the agreements were documented in four different languages: Egyptian, Hebrew, English, and French. Even more importantly, all of the parties involved agreed that if there was a dispute, then the French version would be the binding version. Words can have completely different meanings in different cultures.
The negotiating expert Dr. Chester Karrass has kept track of how different cultures attempt to communicate an idea and somehow end up making mistakes. My favorite one from his list is the sign that he saw in a hotel in Egypt that read “Patrons need have no anxiety about the water, it has been passed by management.”
In closing, just because you’ve reached the end of a sales negotiation with the other side of the table, you must still be on guard. Your verbal agreements now have to be documented and both parties need to read and interpret the words in the same way. Your work is by no means done, it is only just starting!
Have you ever negotiated with someone who spoke a different language than you did? Were you able to finally reach a verbal agreement with them? What language did you use to document your agreements in? Were there ever any interpretation issues that arose because of language differences? Leave me a comment and let me know what you are thinking.