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Codes of Culture in Negotiation
Editors’ Note: Culture, Miller argues, has become a widely recognized element in negotiation at many levels. Yet he finds that this has failed to clarify how culture actually works, because culture means so many things to so many people that invoking the concept is as likely to confuse as to enlighten negotiators. The author argues for making a distinction between three different orientations to culture. They range from treating culture as widely shared values and practices of large groups and societies (which the author calls “encompassing codes”), to focusing on the distinctive social realities created in social interactions in small groups (“small group codes”). Between these extremes, he says, is the “multiple codes” orientation, which stresses the diversity of values and practices shared within cultural communities. Miller contends that understanding these three codes can help any negotiator decode what is really going on.
I explore how culture is an aspect of negotiation in this chapter. I recognize that this is not a new topic for negotiators; indeed, their interest in culture appears to have increased in recent years. For example, the globalization of negotiation has spurred concerns about how negotiators might adjust their practices in working in diverse cultures (Graham 1985; Liu 2009). Other discussions focus on negotiations involving representatives of racial, ethnic, regional and other cultural groups within contemporary societies (Crespo et al. 2002; Kelly 2006). A third issue involves the relevance of organizational cultures for negotiations within and between organizations (Cavataio and Hinck 2013; Trask and DeGuire 2013). Finally, questions have been raised about how negotiators might respond to the shifting multicultural realities of postmodern societies (Adler 2006; Fox 2010).
Negotiators’ writings on these issues highlight the relevance of culture to wide ranging negotiation settings, participants and issues. They underscore the importance of meaning and identity in conflict negotiation. But the potential relevance of cultural issues in negotiation can also be a source of concern for negotiators. For example, what do people mean when they use the word culture or say that a particular group practice is cultural? There seems to be no agreed upon definition of culture in the negotiation literature. Nor are there agreed upon criteria for assessing the usefulness of different definitions of culture for different negotiating settings. Cynthia A. Savage (1996: 272) captures negotiators’ difficulty with this issue by stating, “[c]ulture is a concept that, like pornography, seems obvious until one tries to define it.” Jeffrey Z. Rubin and Frank E.A. Sander (1991) argue that—for negotiators—culture is in the eye of the beholder and too often is used to label people. Rubin and Sander (1991: 251) state,
The label of culture may have an effect very similar to that of gender or intellectual aptitude; it is a “hook” that makes it easy for one negotiator … to organize what he or she sees emanating from that “different person” seated at the other side of the table.
Despite their concerns, Savage (1996) and Rubin and Sander (1991) maintain that the concept of culture is still useful for negotiators. Its usefulness, however, is contingent on negotiators’ critically reflecting on how they define the concept and use it in interpreting the meanings of other parties’ actions in negotiations. These studies form a point of departure for this chapter. I share the analysts’ concerns about the concept of culture and their interest in facilitating conversations about its relevance in negotiation. Two central questions guide my thinking on this issue: “How might negotiators assess the relevance of different definitions of culture for particular negotiations?” and “How might negotiators use different definitions of culture in orienting negotiations toward workable conflict resolutions?” These questions point to a negotiation-centered approach to culture. We turn to this issue next.
A Negotiation-Centered Orientation to Culture
The challenges faced by negotiators in defining the concept of culture should not be surprising. Gustav Jahoda’s (2012) history of the concept documents the many different ways in which “culture” has been used in the Western world. Its original use was in discussing environments that foster the production of something (e.g. negotiation as a culture of conflict resolution), but it has since been expanded to include definitions of culture as sophisticated knowledge and tastes (high culture), ways of life....
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