How to Deal with Conflict in International Trade

How to Deal with Conflict in International TradeConflicts are naturally going to occur occasionally in businesses. It might be that the order came late or never arrived. Your international partner may want to constantly renegotiate. The client may never be satisfied. There are two things you must do when a conflict occurs:

  • You must determine if the conflict you’re dealing with a cultural issue or is it a business issue.
  • If it is a cultural difference, you must look for ways to bridge the cultural divide and focus on solving the issues.

Around the world, business cultures vary widely. What you find to be acceptable in one location could be looked down upon in another. Certain things like a Japanese businessperson may break out into a giggle if they feel uncomfortable. An American businessperson may clear his throat, cough, perspire or talk faster. Separating cultural issues from business issues is important. Normally, cultural issues challenge your assumptions and expectations about the other person’s responses and other actions. It may come in the form of an overreaction or under reaction to something you said or did.

Here are a few specific cultural differences and ways to approach your counterpart for better results when they occur:

  • Emotional Outbursts—Most commonly, this style is found in the Middle East. You can also find it in Africa, Latin America and Mediterranean countries. You may feel you didn’t do anything to actually deserve the outburst. The person is trying to get you to give concessions by throwing an emotional tantrum. They feel they need to be on top of a win-lose relationship with you. You should do your best to remain extremely calm and wait for the person’s tantrum to stop if you want to render this technique ineffective. When it is over, just pick up the conversation from where it left off before the outburst. Totally ignore the outburst altogether.
  • Silence—Silence seems to truly be “golden” and is a well-used tool in Eastern Asia. They will literally stop talking when they are upset. It is most commonly used in oral communication, like over the phone. It can also be used in the form of unresponsiveness to emails and other communication channels. They assume you will break the silence first and offer concessions to make up for the negative feelings. If you feel that the silence is undeserved, do not be the one to break the silence if you were the last one to communicate. If you simply wait in silence, you will be letting them know that this technique does not work on you.
  • Frequent Renegotiations—Western cultures typically rely on a written legal contract to define business relationships. In the rest of the world, however, relationships are the foundation of business dealings. You can expect your clients, suppliers, and partners to ask to renegotiate the arrangements often in these relationship-based business cultures. You can expect this in countries like China, Russia, India, Indonesia, and Africa. In these cultures, the renegotiations are a reflection of a changing business environment and a desire to keep the business relationship functional and current.


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