Russian business culture & negotiation style. Part 3 of 3

Read the beginning of the article: part 1 and part 2 


Russian style of negotiation: myths and reality


Great sense of humor


The excellent sense of humor of the famous Soviet diplomat Alexander Gromyko was often recalled by his American colleague Henry Kissinger, who noted that his Soviet colleague was a master of jokes with a “double bottom”, and sometimes it took some time to appreciate his humor.

Gromyko was able to tease his colleague even in the difficult conditions of international negotiations during the cold war period in order to defuse the situation unnoticeably.

For example, during a meeting in Moscow, Kissinger said to Gromyko: “Mr. Minister, our copier is broken. If I hold the document up to the ceiling, will you make me a copy? ” – to which Gromyko replied: “Unfortunately, cameras were installed here during the tsarist regime. Picture of people is good, but the documents don’t turn out very well.”

Gromyko made a very clever suggestion to the Americans in 1972 during the US presidential election, when it was discovered that the Soviet diplomat was very similar to the American President Richard Nixon. During the negotiations, Gromyko told Kissinger that if he was more accommodating, he would wear a hat worn by Nixon supporters to a diplomatic reception at the United Nations, with his slogan “Nixon is just the thing!”


Stratagem of thinking


Russian mentality combines breadth and scope, sincerity, and a sharp word of truth paradoxically with the priority of indirect action (“asymmetric response”) in the process of making strategic decisions, with the famous Russian savvy. Russian consciousness is a binary opposition that balances each other, giving creative impulses to the development of the Russian character.

And during the negotiations and on the battlefield the Russians always won “not the number, and ability”: “A trick that is flexible, encircle, and you will not notice” “Do not drive the wolf but win with cunning”, “Nothing is impossible and everything is possible”.

Russian Proverbs and sayings may well be called “Russian stratagems” for intellectual traps that are presented in the Russian lexicon in the form of Proverbs and sayings: they mean the use of strategic plans during negotiations that contain some kind of trap or trick for the enemy. This shows the closeness of the Russian mentality to Eastern culture, especially to Confucian culture, where stratagems are the basis of national psychology (for example, in the Chinese).

The concept of “stratagem” includes a whole set of very diverse, often contradictory qualities: camouflage, deception, seduction, and escape, gaining advantages, capturing prey. It is no accident that the main character of Russian mythology, Ivanushka, is a simpleton in appearance, and wins over everyone with his wit: “Simplicity is enough for any wise man.” The principle of the indirect Russian response to a cunning opponent is a national stratagem, which is very similar to the Chinese intellectual trap of “Pretending to be a fool without losing your head”.

Russian and Proverbs, if we compare the wording of the famous 36 Chinese stratagems with the Russian intellectual traps reflected in folk mythology, we will see the direct proximity of the Russian and Eastern mentality in the situation of confrontation. That is why Russians understand Eastern politicians well enough and are able to mediate complex, conflicting negotiations between Western and Eastern leaders.

For example, Russian sayings: “On words honey, on heart ice”, “on words of mercy asks, behind a boot a knife carries”, “Affectionate look, and on heart poison”, “a Voice of a Nightingale, Yes a claw of a hawk” – can well serve as an illustration of the Chinese stratagem “to Hide a dagger behind a smile”.


Nonverbal communication


Russian speech is also highly emotional, sincere, and warm, and expressive in non-verbal communication, which can give the negotiations an emotional intensity: the incendiary nature of Russian speech can attract the most sluggish partners.


This was very emphatically written by Somerset Maugham, who happened to visit Russia during the February revolution of 1917 and listen to the speeches of A. F. Kerensky. The writer was amazed at the oratory of the Russian politician, who spoke with great enthusiasm, was able to appeal to the feeling, not to reason, and often descended from the podium into the midst of the crowd, so that one might think that he wanted to address each of the listeners personally: “People felt that he was a sincere, straightforward man, and if he made mistakes, they were the mistakes of an honest man.”

The Russian culture of negotiations has a high context: information is transmitted mainly by non-verbal means; the structure of communication is very rich; personal status, authority, and interpersonal relationships are of great importance.

In low-context cultures (Anglo-American, German, and Scandinavian), the ability to speak briefly, clearly, and to the point is valued, and increased emotionality, ambiguity, and ambiguity are not welcome. The Russian communication model is therefore very attractive in its high context, but we can’t ignore its downside, which can be especially sensitive in negotiations: it is very difficult for a Russian negotiator to control non-verbal communications, and they are able to give out what should be left out of the negotiation process.

Russian face “not a mask, but an identification mark” (S. Maugham). And if in southern Europe (Italy, Spain, France), Latin America, and the Arab world love and appreciate the direct expression of feelings, in Northern Europe and the ATP countries, a bright display of emotion is not accepted.

For example, after meeting with Kerensky, S. Maugham wrote that he was “embarrassed” that such noble feelings were expressed openly: this is one of those differences between the Russians and the British, “because of which we will never be able to understand each other.” Probably the last words: that “we can never understand” – a literary exaggeration of the English writer because, for a professional negotiator, it is the ability to understand an another-an integral part of professional activity.


Relation to time


An important characteristic of the negotiation style is its attitude to time. In monochrome cultures (Anglo-American, German, and Scandinavian), punctuality, concentration, efficiency, and compliance with the schedule of negotiations are considered the basis of business communication. In polychronic cultures (Latin America, East Asia, India), people are much less concerned about time.

Russian culture is widely believed to be polychronic, moreover, some Western researchers, following Andrey Sinyavsky, believe that the Russian people prefer an inactive being, a” fool ” (meaning Ivanushka, the fool from folk tales), who is in a state of unreasonable passivity.

Everything he has is calculated on “maybe” and “probably”.

And the famous Ilya Oblomov from the novel by N. S. Goncharov is also often presented by Western authors as a Russian national hero – the embodiment of negligent laziness. But at the same time, our critics, turning to mythology and literature for examples, forget the most important task of national culture – to prevent the danger, to show it in an exaggerated form, to bring it to the extreme point, to the absurd, so that everyone can understand: you can’t live like this. The Russian philosopher I. A. Ilyin said very accurately about Oblomov:”…This is a danger. Not substance. Not a national way of life. Not a form of creativity. It’s just a danger.”

The latest research by Russian anthropologists shows that Russian students are now ahead of their Western peers in the priorities of such values as skill, efficiency, and intellectual autonomy. The younger generation of Russians is ready for hard work and values efficiency and punctuality as important professional characteristics. During negotiations, attention to punctuality, to the development of stages of the negotiation process, to the agenda is a mandatory quality of the Russian business style of communication.




Russian Russian negotiation culture has an attractive national feature, such as hospitality, Russian hospitality, and a thirst for a holiday, which can color any negotiations in a warm, festive tone. Russia has always welcomed guests “not with flattery, but with honor”, “Guest is not a guest – host joy”.


Cross-cultural studies of philologists devoted to the study of the vocabulary of Romano-Germanic languages have revealed that hospitality is not specified in their phraseology. For example, in the English language, there are no examples of Proverbs and sayings on the topic of hospitality, but such values as the closeness of family life, thrift and selfishness (“My home is my fortress”) are often played out.

Russian hospitality implies a bright cultural program and a festive feast at the end of the negotiations. Russian literature, ballet, and art can become an important cultural link between negotiators from different countries of the world. Art brings people together: the Bolshoi theater, the Tretyakov Gallery, the Pushkin Museum – these words are understandable without translation to people of different countries and peoples. And of course, Russian cuisine is famous all over the world for its original and very delicious dishes: pancakes with caviar, the pig with horseradish, ushitsa with cancer necks and rasstegaem, white salted mushrooms.


Thus, the most important features of the  Russian style of negotiation are:

  • “All-openness of the Russian spirit”, setting on empathy;
  • Setting for consensus, striving for reconciliation;
  • Ability to mediate between the West and the East;
  • Sense of justice;
  • Striving to keep your word;
  • High context of speech culture;
  • Stratagem thinking;
  • The priority of indirect action;
  • Hospitality, Russian hospitality.




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