Cross-cultural Negotiation: Ireland-Germany

Bachelor Thesis 2004 41 Pages

Business economics - Miscellaneous



1 Introduction

2 Culture
2.1 Defining culture
2.1.1 A general Definition
2.1.2 Geographic and linguistic areas
2.1.3 Intellectual styles
2.2 Developing a cultural consciousness
2.2.1 The collective mind
2.2.2 Cultural identity
2.2.2 The need for understanding diversity
2.3 Culturally Determined Behaviour
2.3.1 Applying Schein’s Iceberg Model to management
2.3.2 Applying Hofstede’s dimensions to management
2.3.3 Applying Duelfer’s layer model to management

3 Cross-cultural communication
3.1 Perception
3.1.1 Selection of information
3.1.2 Interdependence between experiences and expectations
3.1.3 Stereotypes and prejudices
3.2 The “third” culture
3.2.1 Creating a “third” culture
3.2.2 Misinterpretations
3.2.3 Avoiding misunderstandings

4 Irish-German negotiation
4.1 Communication styles
4.1.1 Time
4.1.2 Directness vs. Indirectness
4.2 Social customs
4.2.1 Relationships
4.2.2 Greetings and Addressing
4.2.3 Humour
4.3 Cultural dimensions
4.3.1 Low-context vs. high-context cultures
4.3.2 Universalism vs. Particularism
4.3.3 Uncertainty Avoidance

5 Conclusion

6 Bibliography

Figure 2-1 Assmann’s communicative and the cultural mind

Figure 2-2 Bolten’s distinction of the cultural mind

Figure 2-3 Schein’s Iceberg Model

Figure 2-4 Duelfer’s layer model

Figure 3-1 Selection of information

Table 2-1 results for Ireland and Germany

1 Introduction

Why do business negotiations often go wrong, although English is a widely and well spoken business language? Successful communication depends not only on the level of language; it is predetermined by the cultural knowledge, values and norms. Only when going abroad or meeting other cultures, people may step out of their self-reference criteria and are able to become aware of their own as well as the other’s culture. Everything that used to be normal with regarding to behaviour, attitude and values, and therefore someone was unaware of in their own culture, suddenly becomes strangely embedded in a newly occurring situation.

In spite of a huge amount of literature available about cross-cultural communication, there is little useful information, which is applicable to practical and specific situations like Irish-German negotiations. Especially, it is very difficult to acquire empirical data from negotiation processes as the influences of a third person have a considerable effect on the other communication partners’ actions and thus the value of the process is degraded.

The usage of cultural dimensions from Hofstede, Trompenaars and Hall are widely quoted and used for putting cultures into categories. In the meantime, these dimensions lack examples regarding the behaviour of cultures in certain situations. Mostly, they fail to explain the reasons for cultural behaviour, which refer to the underlying values, norms and beliefs. In addition to some of these dimensions, I will make use of communication styles and social custom in order to describe likely situation where tension between Irish and German negotiations can arise. But what is more, I will try to explain the reasons for these incidents. These explanations should give the reader a further understanding of both cultures’ values. As I am a German-native speaker, there may be a little bias in the explanations regarding the German cultural values.

This work should provide a guideline when meeting the respective culture but should not be taken for granted since it does purport to not totally prevent cultural misunderstandings. This insight should smooth the negotiation process with the respective culture, but will always be individually dependent as it is a person’s ability to decide which tactics are best in a given situation. Furthermore, it has to be considered that I am writing from a German perspective and even when I try to explain the values and reasons for the Irish behaviour I cannot fully avoid falling back into my self-reference criteria, and remain equally distant as between the respective cultures.

2 Culture

Culture is very hard to define. More than 500 definitions of ‘culture’ exist. As soon as scientists define and categorise what culture is, generalisations form which lead to stereotypes and prejudices. Subcultures and individuals are often excluded from the “new” definition. The results of such a narrow-minded perspective can lead to misunderstandings. The most suitable definition of culture is that of a set of codes. These codes consist of underlying conventions, beliefs and values. Their usage enables a group of people to communicate within this system. It therefore distinguishes the members of the group from the environment and enables them to define themselves; non-members are not able to use the code. The way we refer to the codes of a system creates identity. Our identity shows what we are, and what we are not. Since the Second World War, the realisation of cultural differences has had political as well as economic ramifications. Most of the industrialised countries experienced enormous economic growth after the Second World War, which led to the necessity for international relations and negotiations between companies from different countries. Moreover, Europe is merging politically. Due to technological evolution, visiting other countries is becoming easier. Even worldwide communication with a dispersed audience is possible. For these, among other reasons, there is a need to understand cultures.

2.1 Defining culture

2.1.1 A general Definition

In general, culture is a very abstract phenomenon which often remains unnoticed. Gert Hofstede describes culture as the “collective programming of the mind which distinguishes the members of one group or category of people from another.” (Hofstede 1991: 5) In a similar way, culture is described by Edward T. Hall as “the medium evolved by the human species, the one which characterizes the human species while at the same time differentiating one social group from another.” (Hall 1998: 58) In other words, culture distinguished their members from their environment through Identification (Bolten 2003; Hall 1998; Hofstede 1991). Identity among members can only arise if a culture including values, conventions, beliefs, rituals, rules etc. that are shared (Adler 1991; Barmeier 2000). Furthermore, culture is passed on from one generation to another through socialisation (Adler 1991; Smith and Mackie 2000). It provides structures and influences the behaviour and perceptions of the members of the group. Because of this, orientation within the culture is created because assumptions are shared by all the members.

On the other hand, Bolten refers to the concept of wide and narrow terms of culture (Bolten 2003). According to him, a narrow term considers cultures as hermetic clusters and thus is inappropriate because it does not live up to the expectations of individuals. This is due to the systematic theory of culture that according to Hall came to prominence in 1953 (Hall 1998: 58). Systematic culture is seen as a system with an underlying code through which individuals are included or excluded because of their ability to use these codes.

A wider understanding of the term culture is the place and surrounding environment in which the members are living, i.e. it is not only a natural phenomenon, but also incorporates the environment that is shaped by the inhabitants. All factors which could have an influence on people are included (Bolten 2003: 19). According to Bolten, there cannot be a border drawn because cultures are dynamic constructs that react in an organic fashion (Bolten 2003: 20).

2.1.2 Geographic and linguistic areas

This approach focuses on the language that is spoken among countries and reconciles national with linguistic areas to create cultural zones (Bolten 2003). This does not mean that the people share the same values because different countries can have very different histories. For example, among the English-speaking countries like Ireland, Great Britain, Australia or America have cultures that are clearly distinctive from one another. Although these nations share the same language, their respective national histories are very different; ergo their value systems and cultures deriving there from are also different. The same applies to German-speaking countries to which Germany, Austria, Switzerland and parts of North Italy belong. They have each developed differently and now display different attitudes because of their distinctive belief systems. Each of these countries reinforces its own culture which can be endangered by the use of overgeneralisations. Another method of classification is into geographic areas. Regions like Asia, Western and Eastern Europe or the Middle East. These categorizations tend to be very subjective as it is often not very clear to which region the country belongs. Within these regions, linguistic or historical similarities often do not exist. The problem of course, with such categorisations is that generalisations automatically occur as the categorisations are can never be specific enough (and if they were, would be overly complex). Also, characteristics are attributed to people or similarities among countries are assumed where in actual fact they do not exist. In addition to this subcultures are ignored.

2.1.3 Intellectual styles

What makes a culture different from others appears to be its underlying communication system. For this reason, culture is seen as a product of communication. So the "communicative styles are also always cultural styles” (Bolten 2003). On this basis, Galtung tries to avoid clustering a culture by geography or nations. Therefore, he classifies cultures by their style of communication, which he defines as “intellectual styles” (Galtung, 2003: 167). He distinguishes between Saxonic, Nipponic, Teutonic as well as Gallic styles. But not all cultures worldwide can be put into these categories. By choosing these classifications, Galtung intended to stress the intellectual styles of the economic leading countries. Without doubt, other intellectual styles exist that have not been examined yet.

A strong Saxon style can be found in the English-speaking world; this means primarily in Great Britain and the United States of America whereas in nations like Canada or Australia the style undergoes diminution. People seem to be fact-oriented (Galtung 2003: 194) and base their attitudes on empirical knowledge instead of theories, as with people belonging to the Teutonic style. Humour and the drive of personality are important factors. So in debates a different opinion is allowed. But it should be an enjoyment rather than an argument or disagreement (Galtung 2003: 177). Building up a relationship is primarily the goal and therefore more time in communication is invested in order to get more information about the person to whom one is speaking. Indirect communication is often the result from avoiding conflicts in Saxonic countries.

Japan appears to be the centre of the Nipponic style. A wide range of knowledge keeps balance between people regarding their relationship as follows: speaking in turn, as well as the aim of avoiding conflicts are products of respecting the elderly and ranks of people in a group. In order not to destroy social relations, only vague communicational expressions are used. The collective attitude is what counts (Galtung 2003: 176). Thus, this creates harmony.

In Eastern Europe, the Teutonic style predominates and reaches according to Galtung, its peak in Germany. Debates are loved; different opinions and contradictions are expected and anticipated (Galtung 2003: 182). On the other hand, rational thinking, strictness (Galtung 2003: 184) as well as clarity (Galtung 2003: 187) determines the seriousness and the lack of humour in the workplace. Respect for people in authority is expressed by prevailing formality and hierarchy. What is more, theory-orientation predetermines abstract principles (Galtung 2003: 188).

On the other hand, the distinguishing feature in the Gallic style is aesthetic. It can be found in France. Although it is theory-oriented like the Teutonic style, the elegance of pronunciation reduces the sternness of the French behaviour (Galtung 2003: 184). The elegant French language helps to hide difficult situations (Galtung 2003: 195). Moreover, the language overcomes the gap between the elite and the proletarians. It also seems that communication creates counterbalance between contradictory opinions so that they can be accepted (Galtung 2003: 177).

2.2 Developing a cultural consciousness

2.2.1 The collective mind

The mind is a very complex and abstract term. To create self-awareness as well as an understanding of a different culture, it is important to know how culture develops. People’s behaviour is largely determined by their cultural knowledge, which is defined by Jan Assmann as the collective mind (Assman 2003). Furthermore, he distinguishes between the communicative and the cultural mind.

illustration not visible in this excerpt

Source: Assmann 2003

Figure 2-1 Assmann’s communicative and the cultural mind

The communicative mind is built up through communication between a minimum of two people. In general, it refers to social situations in which interactions among individuals are taking place. The Individuals gain their knowledge from the experience they encounter every day. It consists of unorganised and not very specified information. The communicative mind refers to current situations and exists only in the communication at present. People’s cultural or even sub-cultural behaviour is based on their shared memories. It is said that the communicative mind encompasses a period of about 80 to 100 years (Bolten 2003). It never stays fixed on specific events (Assmann 2003). On the contrary, it is connected to generations and so it is growing historically. What is more, if the people who carry the knowledge die, their collective mind is annihilated as well. When there is no existing medium that preserves the information which is collected in the communicative mind, the data will pass away. With the invention of writing and typography these experiences could be retained. The communicative mind goes over into the cultural mind, which changes the group identity as they shelter and reproduce their identity on the cultural knowledge.

The cultural mind, on the other hand, encompasses all lasting memory of a group of people that is based on historical events (Assmann 2003). Such communication products exist in the form of documents, architecture, art etc. Nowadays, new types of electronic technology enlarge this amount of accessible information. According to Assmann and Bolten, the cultural mind features two modifications (Assmann 2003; Bolten 2003). First of all, it functions as a storage mechanism as mentioned previously. Secondly, it is characterised by reconstructing long-term memories in present situations. Therefore, Bolten draws an additional distinction between the storage and the functional mind (Bolton 2003). Cultural identity cannot exist in the storage, but only in the functional mind, because the fossilised knowledge is not connected with the mind of the living individuals.

illustration not visible in this excerpt

Source: Bolten 2003

Figure 2-2 Bolten’s distinction of the cultural mind

In the functional mind, people from institutional organisations like journalists, societies, companies etc. select data from the storage mind, organise and reconstruct it in the present through communication. So, the feeling of identity emerges from this active remembering process. Cultural identity is created through ceremonies, illustrations as well as self-reflections. It refers back to the knowledge shared by a group of people. What we know and what we feel is culturally attached to us. Besides, it is only one part of the total amount of knowledge we have.

2.2.2 Cultural identity

Cultural identity can be understood as “patterns of learned, group related perceptions including both verbal and nonverbal language, attitudes, values, belief systems, disbelief systems, and behaviours that are accepted and expected by an identity group” (Singer 52). Furthermore, Smith and Mackie include the issue of the changing environment which is due to gaining information about other cultures, travelling, cultural contacts, changes in lifestyles, education and economy etc. For this reason, they regard cultural identification as a process (Smith and Mackie 2000: 63). In social psychology identity is understood when characteristics of a person are centred in social roles and practices (Smith and Mackie 2000: 63) whereas, from a communicative point of view identity can be created through the exchange of information (Smith and Mackie 2000: 63) Thereby, communication has an enormous impact on the development of cultural identity, not only because it links the people. They mould their cultural identity by creating, reinventing, affirming or changing it (Smith and Mackie 2000: 63).



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Dublin Institute of Technology
Cross-cultural Negotiation Ireland-Germany International Business Languages




Title: Cross-cultural Negotiation: Ireland-Germany