Cultural tips: Russia

How to negotiate with Russians

  • Russians love children; exchange of photographs is an excellent manner to build bridges.
  • In the cruel Russian environment, family love was often the only enduring form of riches. Display your own family closeness, if appropriate, showing respect of older people.
  • They are sensitive about their history, considering most Russian wars as defensive ones against aggressive neighbours. Russians are essentially nostalgic – the present does not dominate their thinking as it might with many other countries.
  • If you have strong cards, do not overplay them. Russians are proud people and must not be humiliated. Do them a favour early on, but indicate it is not out of weakness. The favour should be person-directed, rather than related to the business being discussed.
  • They are people rather than deal-oriented. Try to make them like you. Personal relationships between the negotiating teams can achieve miracles in cases of apparent official deadlock.
  • One way to succeed is to conspire with them ‘to beat the system’. They dislike stringent regulations. Anything you introduce as an official directive they will distrust. Something you indicate as a personal recommendation, they will embrace.
  • Indicate your own distrust of blind authority or excessive bureaucracy as often as you can.
  • Right and wrong is usually decided by the feelings of the majority, not by law. They achieve what they achieve in their own country largely through an intricate network of personal relationships. Favour is repaid by favour and they expect no help from officials.
  • When showing firmness, take every opportunity to indicate your human side - hopes, goals, etc. They are more interested in your personal aspirations than in commercial objectives.
  • They will generally behave collectively and envy of another’s success is also a Russian characteristic. Dissidence, in general, is not popular with them, as security has historically been found in conformist behaviour. Do not try to separate a Russian from his or her ‘group’.
  • Drink with them between meetings if you are able to. It is one of the easiest ways to build bridges. They feel uncomfortable at standing cocktail parties and prefer to drink sitting down, with time to make frequent toasts and short speeches (poetic/dramatic/sentimental).
  • Taboos include: wearing coats indoors, hands in pockets, sitting with legs apart, lunching on park lawns, whistling in street, public displays of affection, saying you’re going to the toilet.
  • They like praise especially on Russian advances in technology and artistic achievements.
  • They have, in their history, never experienced democracy. Therefore, do not expect them to be automatically egalitarian, fair, even-handed and open to straight debate. It is advisable to show them clearly how you think about such matters and how you are motivated by these factors. Terms such as ‘democratic’, ‘fair-play’, ‘profit’, ‘turnover’, ‘cash flow’, ‘public relations’, ‘goodwill’ have less meaning for them, therefore use such words cautiously.
  • Russians are basically conservative and do not accept change easily. Sudden changes or new ideas cause discomfort. Introduce new ideas slowly and keep them low key at first.
  • They like to say they understand when in fact they don’t, and also have the tendency to say things they think you want to hear, so do not take what is said for granted.
  • They negotiate having planned several moves ahead. Russians first present a draft outlining their objectives as a starting position. Opponents should think carefully of each move.
  • Russians regard willingness to compromise as a weakness. The general tendency is to push forward vigorously as the other side seems to retreat. They will concede points (often minor ones) only in return for (usually major) concessions by the other side. Meaning they may build several “throw-aways” into their initial draft – things of little importance which they can concede freely, without damaging their own position.
  • Their preferred tactic in case of deadlock is to display patience and “sit it out”. They will only abandon this tactic if the other side shows great firmness. They are suspicious of anything which is conceded easily. In the Soviet Union days, everything was complex.
  • They are not as interested in money, therefore are more prepared to walk away from a deal.
  • They maintain discipline in the meeting and speak with one voice. When others speak with several voices, the Russians become confused about who has real authority.
  • They usually ask the other side to speak first, so they may reflect on the position given.
  • Their approach to an agreement is conceptual and all-embracing, as opposed to step-by-step settlement. Acceptance of their conceptual approach often leads to difficulties in working out details later and eventual implementation.
  • Russians begin conversations unsmiling and are skilled at keeping their temper, but then can be quickly melted down with show of understanding and sincerity appearing excitable.

Source: CultureActive by Richard D. Lewis

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