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The communication process in any context requires forethought and preparation. There are many different aspects which can impact business communication; culture being one of these.

Geert Hofstede’s paradigm for comparing cultures could be of some use when preparing for negotiating in another cultural context.[1]

Hofstede’s six dimensions [2]

  1. Power Distance, related to the different solutions to the basic problem of human inequality;
  2. Uncertainty Avoidance, related to the level of stress in a society in the face of an unknown future;
  3. Individualism versus Collectivism, related to the integration of individuals into primary groups;
  4. Masculinity versus Femininity, related to the division of emotional roles between women and men;
  5. Long Term versus Short Term Orientation, related to the choice of focus for people's efforts: the future or the present and past.
  6. Indulgence versus Restraint, related to the gratification versus control of basic human desires related to enjoying life.

By considering each of these dimensions, you will be able to evaluate the situation and communicate in the most appropriate way to avoid offence or unproductivity.

6.1.      Overcoming communication barriers

If you come across a barrier in relation to communication and culture, consider the following steps in order to successfully overcome the barriers and achieve your business goal for internationalisation:


Things to Consider

Discover the culture

·         What are the cultural differences between your culture and the culture you are trading into?

·         Are there any barriers for your business in particular due to cultural differences?

·         Consider Hofstede’s six dimensions

Adaptation of your communication

·         How could you adapt your communication to suit the new culture?

·         Is there a language barrier that could be overcome? Translator?

Underlying barriers beyond culture and communication?

·         Are there any other barriers which are stopping you from communicating effectively with your international clients?

e.g. language, resources, point of view, pricing

Communicating effectively in a different country

Identify the goals of your communication process. Are you looking for someone to help you distribute artwork or craftwork? Are you looking for a gallery to host an exhibition?  Are you looking for a producer? Do you want to find a local partner to help you import fashion in order to reduce your barriers to entry in a new market?

Once you have highlighted your goals, it helps to realise that goals are not absolute. Identify the best outcome you could achieve, your best-case scenario, then identify a middle-ranking outcome, then identify a line (your red line) beyond which you are unwilling to go, effectively the worst-case scenario which would meet some of your needs, although still just be acceptable.

Case Study:

Caroline wants to find a partner to help her co-host an exhibition of award-winning embroidery-focused abstract artworks. She has recently won commissions from the National Trust and has won press acclaim for her recent regional exhibition. Using Hofstede’s theory, she notes that her potential Swiss partner is of similar cultural values. She is aware that such work is sought after in Switzerland. Through research on the internet she has become aware of similar artists who are making waves in Geneva and she has contacted them by e-mail and arranged a Skype conference call.

Figure 1- Image from Unsplash https://unsplash.com/photos/b1Hg7QI-zcc

Here is Caroline’s negotiating preparation with scenarios giving some thought to her positions:



Installation/ event process



Best outcome

Best case scenario

Ideally, Swiss partners use local contacts and call in favours to find an already established arts venue/ gallery with strong customer base without incurring extra costs-ideally a free or low-cost venue or win/win exchange of event venue like for like to host event in UK and Switzerland with linked aim/profile.

Shared venue and exhibition costs between artists equally.

Venue very low cost or possibly free using theme of cultural co-operation, knowledge exchange. Will offer free workshop for a limited number of local artisans.

Middle outcome

Use established venue with an established following and social media profile.

Use local partners’ contacts/ suppliers for all support.

Limit professional help; do much of work oneself: publicity, promotion, press, marketing of prints, cards, merchandise using local established suppliers known and recommended by partners. Rely on local artists to inform of costs and reasonableness of costs/ terms.

Pay for venue and publicity costs between partners--low to middle cost

Local partners to gain sponsorship for refreshments, leaflets.

Bottom line-red line

Worst case scenario

Find local venue, suppliers, relying less on local knowledge-higher risk and potentially higher cost.

Less control over costs and will need to travel to find suitable venues. Budget 1500 Euros for venue prospecting.

Pay for venue and publicity costs between partners, but offer to pay for publicity to include leaflets printing, web and social media presence and dissemination through local expat communities, press and embassies.

Activity: self-learning exercise

Consider the following scenario and fill in the activity sheet provided:

“You are intending to negotiate with a male Russian counterpart, Ivan Mikolaj, who is interested in your line of sustainably produced vegan and paraben free toiletries and make up line.

He contacted you by responding to your promotional videos on YouTube and is interested in importing some of your products for an international trade fair in Moscow in 2020, with the prospect of supplying a new eco-cosmetic supermarket Drogerie in Moscow and its environs.

Before you even make contact, think about applying Hofstede’s theory to

a potential conversation with Ivan. Be careful not to make too many assumptions as everyone is different, but consider what you know about the recent political context (during last 30 years) in Russia which could impact on his negotiating style and expectations of working with you?


Table 1: Example of using Hofstede (2011) to analyse Ivan’s approach to negotiation:

Fill in the right-hand column with your answers to the questions.

Hofstede (2011) dimension

Questions to answer

Your answers

Power Distance

How likely is it that you will be treated equally and respected in negotiations? Will you be an equal partner and be consulted along the way or told what to do? Democratic or autocratic approach likely?

Uncertainty Avoidance

Tolerance of unusual ideas during negotiation?

Need for control, emotional orientation, expression of anxiety?

Need for rules, or more open?

Individualism versus Collectivism

Social conditions value collective approach or value individual input/ ideas?

 Ability to speak out and transgress norms?

Masculinity versus Femininity

Many women in selected positions?

Do women wield power in society? Are women seen as authoritative?

How can you convince of your authority during negotiations?

Long Term versus Short Term Orientation

View of traditionalism, nationalism, world view, scepticism about world products, acceptance of world products?

Views on success and failure, blame culture?

Opportunistic short-term business culture or long-term views held?

Indulgence versus Restraint

Views on leisure?

Views on freedom of expression, freedom of speech?

Opportunity for leniency, personal expression?

Ability to position products in relation to indulgence in market?

Finally, what do you need to pay attention to during negotiations? Any concerns, problems to avoid, ideas to promote? Write some notes under your table.

[1] Geert Hofstede, ‘Dimensionalising Cultures: The Hofstede Model in Context’, Online Readings in Psychology and Culture, 12.01.2011.

[2] Geert Hofstede, ‘Dimensionalising Cultures: The Hofstede Model in Context’, Online Readings in Psychology and Culture, 12.01.2011 (pg.8).

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