Non-Task Sounding in Business Negotiations

Americans always discuss topics other than business at the negotiation table (for example, the weather, family politics and business conditions in general) but not for long. Usually the discussion moves to the specific business at hand after 5 to 10 minutes. Such preliminary talk, known as non-task sounding is much more than just friendly or polite it helps negotiators learn how the other side feels that particular day. During non-task sounding one can determine if a client attention is focused on business or distracted by other matters, personal or professional.
Learning about a client’s background and interests also provides cues about appropriate communication styles. To the extent that people’s backgrounds are similar, communication can be more efficient like Engineers can use technical jargon when talking to other engineers. Sports enthusiasts can use sports analogies. Those with children can compare the cash drain of putting a kid through college and so on.
During these initial stages of conversation, judgments too are made about the kind of person(s) with whom one is dealing. Can this person be trusted? Will he be reliable? How much power does she have in her organization? All such judgments are made before business discussions ever begin.
These preliminary non task discussions have a definite purpose. Although most people are often unaware of it, this time is used to size up one’s clients. Depending on the results, proposals and arguments are formed using different jargons and analogies. Or if the clients are distracted by other personal matters or if the other people seem untrustworthy the decision may be to discuss no business at all. This sounds like a lot to accomplish in 5 to 10 minutes, but that’s how long it usually takes in the information oriented United States. This is not the case in relationship oriented countries like China or Brazil the goals of the non-task sounding are identical but the time sonnet is much, much longer.
In the United States, firms resort to the legal system and their lawyers when they’ve made a bad deal because of a mistake in sizing up a customer or vendor. In most other countries the legal system cannot be depended upon for such purposes. Instead, executives in places, like Korea and Egypt spend substantial time and effort in non-task sounding so that problems do not develop later. Americans need to reconsider from the foreigner’s perspectives the importance of this stage of negotiations if they hope to succeed in Seoul or Cairo.
Task related information exchange: Only when non task sounding is complete and a trusting personal relationship is established should business be introduced. American executives are advised to let foreign counterparts decide when such substantive negotiations should begin, that is, to let them bring up business.
A task related information exchange implies a two way communication process. However, observations suggest that when Americans meet executives from some cultures across the negotiation table, the information flow is unidirectional. Japanese, Chinese and Russian negotiators all appear to ask thousands of questions and to give little feedback causes them great anxiety. Both can add up to much longer stay in these countries which means higher travel expenses.
Certainly an excellent negotiation tactic is to drain information from one’s negotiation counterparts . But the oft reported behaviours of Chinese, Japanese and Russians may not necessarily represent a sophisticated negotiation ploy. Indeed, reference to exhibit provides some hints that differences in conversational styles — silent period occur more frequently in negotiations in all three cultures – may be part of the explanation. Indeed in careful studies of conventional patterns of Americans negotiating with the Japanese, the Americans seem to fill the silent periods and do most of the talking. These results suggest that American negotiators must take special care to keep their mouths shut and let foreign counterparts give them information.
Source: International Marketing

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