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CULTURAL DIFFERENCES

EUROPE – RUSSIA - CENTRAL ASIA – NORTH AMERICA

 

Ron Wells CCE

 

CONTENTS

PREAMBLE – GEOGRAPHIC INFLUENCES

DIALECTICAL MATERIALISM – NEGOTIATING WITH RUSSIANS

DEALING WITH RUSSIANS – PRACTICAL POINTS

 

PREAMBLE – GEOGRAPHIC INFLUENCES

Europe has traditionally been defined as extending eastward to the Ural mountains.

The Iron Curtain marked a divide between so-called ‘western Europe’ and ‘eastern Europe’. There was also a notional divide between so-called ‘continental Europe’ and the ‘island nation’ that is the United Kingdom (UK). Business culture in the UK is similar to that in the U.S.A. but in many respects alien to the approach on ‘continental Europe’.

There was and is also a recognition of a difference in approach to life and business between ‘northern Europeans’ and ‘southern Europeans’. The former including the Scandinavian and Nordic countries, the UK, northern France, Germany, Austria, Switzerland and the Benelux countries; the latter comprising the so-called ‘Club Med.’ countries namely Spain and Portugal, southern France, Italy and Greece. In the north, for example, punctuality, agreements, rules and regulations are all important whereas, in the south, personal relationships are all important.

The fall of the Berlin Wall replaced the line established by the Iron Curtain with new perceptible divisions. Those countries which have expressed a desire to join the European Union and/or NATO (including the Baltic States) have aligned themselves with what was formerly ‘western Europe’, while the rest remain firmly within a Russian orbit. The Ukraine, Romania and Bulgaria (and some of the Balkans) are betwixt and between for the time being.

The centre of Europe is gravitating towards Berlin since the Federal Republic of Germany has reclaimed its traditional capital city. Countries such as Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Slovenia and Hungary no longer consider themselves part of ‘eastern Europe’ but rather they consider that they constitute ‘central Europe’. Prague is, after all, situated further west than Vienna.

In ‘central Europe’ the influences of the former Austro-Hungarian Empire (family ties, connections, transport routes and historical links) can be seen in patterns of business activity and relationships developing in the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary and Austria.

When the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) was established its charter included ‘all countries of the former Soviet Union’ within the definition of what one could call a ‘greater Europe’. Thus the Russian Federation is included across eleven time zones from its borders with Ukraine, Belarus and Poland to the far east where it almost touches Alaska, at the Bering Strait. The significance of this definition is not only that all of the Russian Federation is included but that several Central Asian nations - which would be excluded by the ‘west of the Ural mountains’ definition - are also included. Nations such as Kazakstan, Georgia, Azerbaijan and Uzbekistan. Turkey has always been seen as ‘bridging the continental divide’ between Europe and the Middle East, it too seems to be firmly included in the new definition of ‘greater Europe’.

The population of ‘greater Europe’ is obviously diversified on many levels but there are three main streams which help one to understand some differences in perceptions of reality, in methods of problem solving, in systems of social structure, in value systems, in business methods and in negotiating styles. These three main streams relate to the division of people according to their culture’s religious roots. Hence ‘western and central Europe (including the UK)’ are mainly influenced by catholic Christian roots originating in Rome; while ‘eastern Europe and Russia (including Greece)’ looked to Constantinople in the past and are influenced by the orthodox Christian ethos. Mixed within these two sub-divisions and prevalent throughout the ‘Central Asian nations (including Turkey)’ is an Islamic foundation.

"Each culture has its own rules for learning; if we are to understand a different culture, we must be prepared to set aside the learning models handed down in our own culture."

(Edward T. Hall, Beyond Culture, 1976)

 

DIALECTICAL MATERIALISM

In relation to Anglo-Americans dealing with people from ‘eastern Europe’, the greatest challenge is presented by Russians. The language barrier is one major obstacle to developing understanding and rapport, but there is also an enormous gulf between the Anglo-American and Russian cultures. In problem solving, for example, Anglo-Americans use the "scientific method" instinctively; Russians do not, they use an entirely different method. As an Anglo-American it is difficult to imagine that there can be another way to solve problems however Russians, and people originating from ‘Club Med.’ Countries, seem to use the "making a Caesar salad method".

Italian problem solving, by way of illustration, was described by Maria-Rita Isgro (November 2000) as "like making a salad, we gather ideas from all directions, mix them together vigorously and a solution materialises", or words to that effect.

In terms of negotiating the dichotomy between Anglo-Americans and Russians is similarly pronounced.

"Dialectical Materialism (DM) …… provides (Russians with) their set of concepts for perceiving the world and its problems, their means of orienting themselves in the universe."

"There are three fundamental components to DM’s theory of knowledge. The first asserts that reality exists independently of the observer’s perception of (reality)."

"The second assertion ……. is that reality operates in accordance with the laws of the dialectic. Thus, absent some understanding of dialectic processes, our ability to comprehend reality is inevitably limited."

"…… according to the third component, thought is a reflection of reality."

"Our knowledge of reality is the subjective dialectic. Reality itself is the objective dialectic. (Reality) is dynamic, never at rest, always changing. It follows, then, that the subjective dialectic must also be in continual movement if it is to attain, and retain, correspondence with reality, the objective dialectic. In fact, Absolute Truth is the full correspondence of the subjective to the objective dialectic, of thoughts to reality."

"(Truth) is both a state of being and a process, a description of the state of correspondence, but a dynamic also, since reality is always changing, and unchanging Truth would be a contradiction in terms."

"The problem in making decisions, in acting, is to ensure that the reality one perceives is a true reflection of objective reality."

 

How could this internalised view of reality and truth affect negotiations with Russians?

"There is a tendency among American negotiators to view negotiations as an exercise in problem-solving. If a problem exists, you sit down at a table, hammer out an agreed solution, presumably with each side compromising from its original position, then you shake hands and part. That problem has been solved, bring on the next. A (Russian) negotiator, on the other hand, will not view the signing of an agreement as the end of the negotiation, but as a stage in the process."

 

"Americans tend to consider that an agreement, once achieved, marks the end of the problem under discussion, and that the solution will administer itself. With a more accurate view of the ongoing character of East-West relations, the (Russians) see implementation of an agreement as a continuing negotiation"

(Jonathan Dean, ‘East-West Arms Control Negotiations: The Multilateral Dimension’, in A Game for High Stakes, 1986)

 

"Someone who has been raised with a dialectical understanding of reality knows that as long as the issue about which the negotiation is concerned continues to exist, the negotiation will continue. It may be useful at various points in the negotiation to give current understandings between parties concrete form in a written agreement. A carefully negotiated agreement will have validity because it will correspond to reality. But reality changes. ….. At some point, in order to bring (any agreement) back into closer correspondence with reality, it will have to be either reinterpreted or re-negotiated."

 

What about the principle of adhering to agreements which you have signed?

"There is no such thing as an abstract principle to a dialectical materialist. Nothing exists ‘out there’ except reality. Correct behavior is that which corresponds to reality."

 

NOTE: The extensive quotes above have been taken from Negotiating with the Soviets, by Raymond F. SMITH (1989), An Institute for the Study of Diplomacy Book, Georgetown University.

ISBN 0-253-35285-1 & ISBN 0-253-20535-2 (paperback).

 

SOME PRACTICAL POINTS TO REMEMBER WHEN DEALING WITH RUSSIANS

Russians prefer to deal with people they know and trust. You must invest time and effort in building relationships.

Contracts are important and will be respected, but if they come to differ significantly from reality (when the situation changes) you should be willing to re-negotiate if you value your relationship. Russians rely on their ‘partners’ to help them to sort out problems when problems arise. That is why relationships and trust are more important than agreements and legal principles. You can insist on enforcing an agreement which is out of line with changed circumstances, but you will not see any future business.

When meeting Russians remember to do so with a firm handshake (but never shake hands over the threshold as that is considered ‘bad luck’). Meet your counterpart with unwavering eye contact. Eye contact speaks of honesty and openness, eye contact is vital when speaking with Russians - you may need to practice this aspect, depending on your cultural background.

 

© Copyright 1998 & 2000 R K Wells

 

 
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Last Updated:  January 02, 2017 17:15 -0000