Negotiating in an international environment

OSCE Missions come from different states, with different cultures and backgrounds. Individuals also come with different organizational attitudes, expectations and norms. The majority of OSCE personnel are from European countries. U.S. personnel are thus part of a much broader multinational team. Work styles, relationships and attitudes will likely be more European than American. Americans are often less hierarchical, more informal, and individualistic.


Working alongside other international or regional organizations with a parallel or complementary mandate is increasingly common. You should recognize that different organizational partners have different mandates, organizational practices, and resources. OSCE shares a third party role in Kosovo with the United Nations Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK), the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, the Kosovo Force (KFOR), the Council of Europe, the European Union Rule of Law Mission (EULEX), and many non-governmental organizations. Indeed, the OSCE Head of Mission wears a second hat as the Deputy Special Representative of the UN Secretary General for Institution-Building.


Culture consists of the values, beliefs and behaviors of a people resulting from their historical experience and passed down over time. Culture consists of things we can observe, such as language and behavior, or food and literature. It also consists of intangible things such as the ways people think and do things. Different states, nations and groups have different cultures that shape theirs views on how they negotiate. Cultural misunderstandings can damage communication, distort meanings, highlight differences and create conflict.

Cultural differences

For an American, working in an OSCE Mission means working in a local culture different from our own. Be ready for cultural differences and prepared to overcome culture shock. Communication will at times be problematic, both in terms of language and non-verbal behavior. The modes of inter-personal relations may be different. The ways in which others relate to ethnic, religious, gender and age issues may be alien to you. Even when using an interpreter, you may find that what you are saying is not always being understood by another person in terms of what you meant.


Americans, as a general rule, are strong believers in individualism, pragmatism and problem solving. We want to “do business,” “get right to it,” and “get it done.” Other cultures place more emphasis on the role of the group (family, clan or nation) than on the individual. They may consider who you are as more important than the role you play.

Relationships are often seen as the necessary building blocks for getting things done. Meetings may be more an opportunity to establish a relationship than to do actual business. Communication regarding issues may be more indirect than direct. The American tendency to want to “work the issue” is seen as hasty, as is our focus on the facts rather than on history. Our surface emotional attitude may be low, while a highly emotional attitude may be the norm in other cultures.

Points to remember

The following is a list of some good points for a negotiator to remember:

  • Know the culture and history of the host country and that of the groups within it; not just the issue at hand.
  • Develop a relationship with those with whom you must deal.
  • Make sure that your message is clearly understood by the other party. You have to take into consideration that there may be some cultural filtering of what you say and what the other party understands. Make sure your non-verbal behavior is consistent with your message. Effective communication is even more of a challenge when working through an interpreter.
  • Try to understand the other party’s culturally accepted approach to negotiation. Be sensitive to issues of status and face.
  • Don’t waste your flexibility and creativity on a party that will not reciprocate. Sometimes you have to stick to your position and your principles until the other party is prepared to be responsive.
  • Be patient. The other parties will probably be looking at things with a longer time span. They may act as if they have all the time in the world. Recognize that their sense of urgency may be different from yours.
  • Negotiation is a continuing process. Don’t be surprised if you have to continue negotiating implementation or further details after you think that an agreement has been concluded.