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My Courses, In-Depth: Communicating in the Energy Sector

February 8, 2010

Imagine that you are a representative from a Californian developer of alternative energy technology.  You’ve been sent to China (a nation hungry for power to sustain its growth) to negotiate a multi-billion dollar deal to supply advanced photovoltaic cells.  How do you approach the situation?  How do you even approach the Chinese team?  Business negotiations are not simply ordering off of a menu, and sending the wrong signals during talks can seriously impede your chances of closing a deal.

That was the thrust of what this particular one-week seminar was trying to get at.  There are massive differences between cultures, both “onstage” and “offstage” (as one social anthropologist phrases).  By that, onstage mannerisms are characterized by things that are shown outwardly – handshakes, bowing, when to trade business cards and how, for example.  Offstage refers to what goals are important to a culture, how they perceive verbal and nonverbal cues, what values and arguments are held in the highest regard.  For instance (and I speak in incredibly broad terms, here), the Chinese team in the given example may be so long-term focussed that closing a deal now and then for the new cells may even be of a lower importance to establishing a cordial business connection with the American firm.  The American negotiation team may want to close at any cost, and will be much more direct in communicating their messages and wishes than their Eastern counterpart.

I enjoyed this course because of its hands-on nature.  Participants were divided into different teams and play a specific culture in a negotiation scenario; the Chinese/American example was a real case.  The teams, in the span of an hour, attempted to come to an agreement that came the closest to a set decision criteria.  There were two negotiations during the week, interspersed with lectures on inter-cultural communication.

Things that I learned:

First, that being a Canadian, and having seen a small portion of the world myself, puts one in a unique position.  Culture shock isn’t so sharp if you’ve been exposed to different cultures in the first place.  Other than learning intricacies of conduct and thinking unique to each broad cultural stereotype, nothing was particularly earth-shattering.

Second, that I enjoy the negotiation process, and talking (though I’m sure those who know me personally may have already come to that conclusion long ago).  Wheeling, dealing, and trying to perceive what really tugs at the strings of the opposite party is really quite fun.  It was an additional boon that Jason and I were the only native English-speakers in the room, so being the figurehead for each team was much easier.

Now, the negotiation scenarios were not perfect.  Gathering a Turk, German, Latvian, and Norwegian together and telling them to pretend to be Chinese doesn’t exactly withstand the stresses associated with negotiation.  But learning how to function with a cross-cultural team of one’s own, then approaching an equally mixed team, provided the same benefits.

When is the last time you had to interact with an ‘outside’ culture.  What even is your culture, and are you what would be considered an ‘average’ member?  There is no definite answer, but if you are interested, there is a survey you can take online, here.

Until next time, vi sees.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. Jen permalink
    February 8, 2010 1:08 pm

    Your courses sound amazing! Sounds a little like negotiations, but way more intense. Happy to hear that they’re giving you what you went there for. Miss you, seriously! When do you come home?

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