Russian business culture & style of negotiation. Part 1 of 3

The influence of Soviet norms, rules of business communication, valuable orientations formed during the Soviet period, and features of the Russian national character on the formation of the Russian style of negotiation. Traditions of Russian diplomacy at the international level.


Two factors influenced the formation of the Russian style: on the one hand – Soviet norms, rules of business communication, valuable orientations formed at that time, on the other – features of the Russian national character. Soviet negotiators, especially those who constantly conducted them, were evaluated by many foreign partners as highly qualified specialists. First of all, this characteristic related to a good knowledge of the subject of negotiations. Much attention was paid to the implementation of the commitments made. As a rule, there were no violations against foreign partners. The decision could not be made for a long time, agreed, clarified, but if it is accepted, and the contract is signed, it is strictly enforced. The same punctual adherence to the contract was expected and required from the partners. The famous American businessman Armand hammer wrote: “Russians are good businessmen… If I could formulate my advice to American businessmen in one sentence, I would say: “Make your contract carefully, because as soon as it is signed, the Soviet side will force you to fulfill it to the letter, just as it fulfills its obligations…” An American businessman who makes a contract with the Russians with the expectation of their naivety makes an irreparable mistake.”


Negotiating tactics

 Along with these positive characteristics, there are often negative. First of all, it is worth paying attention to the understanding of compromise in the Soviet period largely as a forced, temporary measure. This understanding and attitude to compromise (which is one of the most essential elements of negotiations) could not but affect the Soviet-style of negotiations.

Often foreign partners described the Soviet-style as quite closed, wary. The tactics of negotiations differed sometimes in the fact that the Soviet side consisted of a significant overstatement of its requirements. Then, after long discussions, there was a convergence of positions. At the same time, the concessions themselves by the Soviet side were often seen as a manifestation of weakness and were made very reluctantly. In some cases, techniques aimed at obtaining unilateral advantages were used. The composition and structure of the Soviet delegation at the talks were built, as a rule, on a strict hierarchical principle.

The decision required the coordination of issues with Moscow, which could take a lot of time. In the negotiations, the Soviet side preferred to act cautiously, not to take risks. If there was a choice between more or less risky solutions, the second option was often chosen. Risk avoidance led to the limitation of the initiative. The Soviet negotiators reacted to what the partner offered rather than put forward their own solutions.

Describing the peculiarities of the Russian national character, Academician D. S. Likhachev emphasizes that for many centuries Russia was at the crossroads of trade routes going from North to South (from the Baltic Sea to the shores of the Mediterranean – “from the Varangians to the Greeks”) and from West to East ( from Europe to China and India). As a result, “Russian culture is already one that it includes in its composition the culture of dozens of other Nations and has long been associated with neighboring cultures of Scandinavia, Byzantium, southern and Western Slavs, Germany, Italy, the peoples of the East and the Caucasus – a culture universal and tolerant to the cultures of other peoples.” This also contributed to the formation of interest in Russia to other cultures, the inclusion of elements of these cultures, primarily Western European, in the Russian. Many innovations of Peter the Great can serve as a vivid illustration of this.

With regard to negotiations, business relations, this means, first of all, the ability to easily conduct business with representatives of different countries and nationalities, the ability to feel the partner, to be open to his negotiating style. At the same time D. S. Likhachev calls and the other – the desire to bring all “to extremes, to the limits of the possible”.

In negotiations, this can manifest itself in different ways: both as a constant adherence to a very rigid position (or Vice versa), and as a surprise for the partner full acceptance of his proposals. It is with this feature, apparently, connected with such a feature of the behavior of domestic negotiators, noticed by the American author R. Smith, as a rapid change of mood and attitudes towards the partner: the extremely friendly location, then suddenly a manifestation of formality, excluding any personal sympathy. In General, many noted that the emotional side was an important part of the Soviet-style of negotiation.

Another interesting characteristic of the former Soviet and now Russian style of business communication has quite deep roots. When discussing issues, domestic negotiators focus more on common goals and pay relatively little attention to how this can be done. At the same time, the questions of how to achieve this or that goal remain key, for example, for American representatives. Such a divergence in details may delay the development of Russian-American agreements, and in some cases even lead to the breakdown of negotiations.

In describing the Russian style of business communication should pay attention to a number of features due to the lack of experience of business communication of many Russian entrepreneurs. As a result, domestic participants from the point of view of foreign colleagues approach the negotiations strangely. If, when discussing a business proposal, Canadians (as well as many others) argue this way: we unite to increase the size of the “pie”, and then everyone will get more. Russian entrepreneurs are often focused on a different strategy. They believe that the size of the pie is known, and the task is to grab a bigger piece.

This characteristic of the Russian negotiators does not speak about the features of the Russian national character, but rather about the absence of a certain “negotiation culture”, the desire even in a situation of cooperation to see to a large extent a conflict of interests, rather than their coincidence. In addition, this affects the old, Soviet understanding of compromise.

Another thing is that the Russians are inferior to foreign partners in the ability to “bargain”. Russians abroad are enormously overpaying for everything because of their tendency to pay not only without bargaining but not even knowing what the real price level is. Foreigners are already well aware of this and take advantage of it. With the development of negotiation practices at Russian behavior in the negotiations is the exception; that is, firmly connected with the Russian culture, the Russian national character.


Russian style of negotiation: myths and reality


The Russians recognize the only force

Regarding the Russian culture of political negotiations, there are many myths that are diligently supported by the Western media: “Russian recognize only force” (so they need to be tougher), “Russian ideal negotiator – Mr. “no” (meaning A. Gromyko, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the USSR during the cold war), “Russian leaders are too authoritarian”, “Russian negotiators will not get rid of the complex of Russian imperialism”. German political scientist Herbert Kremp directly writes that Eastern diplomacy is more prone to “superiority and domination, generating a false sense of security.” At the same time, political commentators often refer to the scientific and near-scientific research of Western researchers on the specifics of Russian ethnic psychology, which is clearly manifested in the process of political communication. In the works of J. Gorer, John. Rickman, K. Clachan, M. Mead, E. Erikson, D. Lankur-Laferriere of Russian ethnic psychology is viewed as a pathological, masochistic, slave.

The American social anthropologist Clyde Kluckhon in his book “The drama of the Russian national character” describes a traditional type of Russian personality as warm, expansive, responsive, based on “dependent passivity”, of striving for social connection, need connection, interaction with others, emotionally unstable, undisciplined, which is organically necessary subordination to government authority. The brutal Soviet regime led to the transformation of this person and forming her such an alien quality, like lying, accountability, loyalty to a superior. Thus, emotional liveliness, expressiveness, and spontaneity of the Russian character are balanced by dependence on authority and power, and obedience to the authorities and a constant sense of guilt are the support for despotic regimes.

Some researchers support the theory of “diaper determinism”, according to which the reason for the “psychopathic” character of Russian is tight swaddling babies. Because of this, a person from early childhood feels bound, gets used to slavery and suffering, learns to restrain emotions, feeling powerless in front of the authorities. When babies are released from diapers for a short time, they begin to rage. It is formed of manic-depressive character: the alternation of obedience and destructive revelry. The baby in tight diapers is forced to Express all his emotions with his eyes (although in fact, he expresses his strong emotions with a cry), so in Russian culture, so much attention is paid to the eyes.

Commenting on this naive Freudian hypothesis, it should be noted that if it were possible to form a national character with the help of diapers, there would be no point in producing expensive weapons of mass destruction: diapers are much cheaper.

A somewhat different hypothesis explaining the Russian national character, expressed by the American researcher Daniel Lancour Laferriere: in the “slave-like mentality of Russian” he sees the form of masochism. “Russian soul – the slave, then say that the Russians have a tendency to harm themselves, to the destruction and humiliation of themselves, to bring senseless sacrifices, that is, to such behavior, which in the West is characterized as masochism in the clinical sense of the word.”

If Russian ethnic psychology is to be interpreted in this way, the behavior of the Russians in the negotiations must have a significant emotional amplitude of fluctuations: from pathetic servility to brazen imperialism. That’s where these constant calls: “with the Russian need to harder”, “they understand only the force.” American analyst Sam Vaknin writes directly: “the Russian informal and easily susceptible to emotions. They desperately need a guide and cruel leadership.” But the one who comes from such a primitive caricature of the schemes is seriously mistaken and during a negotiation can severely miscalculate.


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