By Abderrahman Ismaili Alaoui
By Abderrahman Ismaili Alaoui
Morocco World News
Zagora, Morocco, April 18, 2012
A crucial issue to be considered in this article is the argument that, though culture undeniably affects the customs and habits of society at the grassroots level, “it does not necessarily influence the behavior of foreign service officers” (Cohen, 1997:20). In making precisely this case, Zartman (1993) states that “in the international world, it is not clear that national differences prevail any longer, because many have disappeared into a homogenized cosmopolitan culture of international negotiations fostered by the United Nations and other multilateral encounters” (p.19). Zartman and Berman (1982) argue that ‘idiosyncratic differences’ can be accommodated within a general model of negotiation.
They readily accept that there are ‘national differences in negotiating behaviors and that culture affects the perceptions and assumptions of negotiators. However, they maintain that cultural aspects of communication – language, cultural connotations, social rules, and taboos are peripheral to the understanding of the basic negotiating process. They suggest two reasons for this: first, “that negotiation is a universal process, and that cultural differences are simply differences in styles and languages,” and second, “that by now the world has established an international negotiation culture that soon socializes its members into similar behavior” (Qtd in Cohen, 1997:20).
Recent developments, such as the European integration, should remind us that, in parallel to the national cultures of Europe, a broader regional common professional culture of diplomacy cutting across traditional boundaries has been emerged. Lang (1993) argues that the delegates negotiating on behalf of the European Community are, as far as their negotiating styles and perceptions are concerned, “influenced not only by their respective national cultures but also by a new composite culture proper to the community” (p.39).
Hofstede (1989) stresses the important impact that culture has on national negotiating styles but acknowledges that persons involved in international negotiations have developed “a professional negotiation culture” (Qtd in Cohen, 1997:21). This professional culture is more superficial than the national cultures because it consists of well-understood symbols and common habits, rather than shared values. Instead of accepting the existence of a general professional culture of negotiators, Hofstede (1989) assigns to each type of negotiator (e.g., diplomats, bureaucrats, business people, lawyers, engineers) a professional culture of its own (Qtd in Ibid). In a nutshell, “negotiations are easier with people from other countries sharing the same professional culture than with those who do not” (Ibid).
According to Lang (1993), the major elements of this professional culture include (a) a sense of accommodation (at least somewhat stronger than the sense of confrontation), (b) awareness of the need for efficient and reliable communication, (c) the importance attached to flexibility and creativity, (d) willingness to go beyond traditional constraints of a national character, and (e) readiness to give higher priority to dispute prevention than to dispute settlement (p. 44-5). This type of negotiation culture, Lang (1993) says, mainly emerged from two developments: “(a) the growing interdependence of nations and issues and (b) the decreasing role of military force” (Ibid, p.45).
Despite these common features of a professional negotiation culture, one should not lose sight of an important consideration that sometimes international negotiators do not act on their own behalf but on behalf of those who issue instructions. These instructions and their implementation may vary according to different cultures, as considerations of leadership and hierarchy may differ from one national culture to another.
Abderrahman Ismaili Alaoui is a teacher of English in Zagora, Morocco. He holds a Master’s in communication studies from the University of Cadi Ayyad in Marrakech, Morocco. He is a contributor to Morocco World News.
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