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Shipyards: Cross Cultural Negotiations

As the maritime industry is worldwide you can find in one ship people from different countries, with different cultures, with different languages, with different religions but united for one common goal. When you work for a shipyard you are exposed to this multi-cultural situation, either with shipyard staff or with vessel’s crew including the superintendent.

On the other hand Shipyard Project Managers are always negotiating in a daily basis, either with the Head of Departments, contractors, supervisors or superintendents. The Project Manager should establish a strategy to engage those stakeholders mentioned before having in place a negotiation strategy based on cross – cultural situations. It’s not the same to negotiate with people from your town or country than to negotiate with people from around the world.

Basic concepts and strategies to deal a cross cultural negotiations in shipyards


From now on, I will state the basic concepts and information a Project Manager should keep in mind when he is assigned to a project. I will focus this article for a negotiation between the Shipyard Project Manager and the Superintendent (client). As I mentioned before, this applies for all the stakeholders in a project either is from shipyard or vessel.

Getting to know the other side nationality

It is extremely important to get know the other side before start a negotiation especially in cross cultural situations. If you are assigned to a Project, first thing you have to find out is the nationality of your counterpart and try to identify what should be his behavior according to his nationality, in other words you have to be prepared to face your counterpart in a proper manner.

For this I have found a very interesting map in an article written by Erin Meyer and published in the Harvard Business Review website[1]. I’ve found this article very useful for my job as Shipyard Project Manager.


Preparing to face your counterpart


In addition to the original map created by Erin Meyer I have added on the Emotionally Expressive – Confrontational quarter the people from Latin America (Colombia, Peru, Ecuador, Panama, Argentina, etc), they express their thoughts and like to confront other people trying to defend their point of view.

If you analyze the map you will see different nationalities and the way how they probably react during negotiations. Personally I think this is a guide only, because every person have their own style. For example last year I repaired a Japanese vessel that trades in America, the superintendent was Japanese as well but he is lives in North America since 8 years ago, so he was not exactly on the quarter of Avoids confrontation – Emotionally Unexpressive where the Japanese are located on the map, specially this guy was on the Emotionally Expressive – Confrontational quarter. I think he has adopted part of the American culture that belongs to this quarter on the map.

Key aspects to keep in mind during cross cultural negotiations

On the other hand I found some other important information to keep in mind when you negotiate with people from different countries, this information is based on the Business Insider article where you can find more information about this topic[2]. The main 3 topics that I’ve found important for my job as a Project Manager are: Trusting, Scheduling and Communicating.


There are to ways that people can trust you depending on the country where they are from, one is a Task-based and the other one is Relationship-based.

In Task-based, the trust is build through the technical part, that means if you work good, you have knowledge about what you are doing, the your counterpart is happy. This relation relationship can be built easily and then dismissed when the business is finished, normally is not built in a long term. Countries that belongs to this group are US, Denmark, Netherlands, Germany, Finland, Australia, UK, Poland.

In the Relationship-based, the trust is based on more personal level, if you share a dinner or lunch, if you go for some drinks, spending some time out of the business. In this way this the trust can be built easily between parties. Countries that belongs to this group are: France, Spain, Italy, Mexico, Russia, Japan, Turkey, Brazil, Thailand, India, Turkey, China, Nigeria, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Dubai, Colombia, Peru, Ecuador, Panama, Venezuela.

You can see that European people are most Task based and the rest are more relationship based. With this approach you can define your strategy to get you client buy in, maybe you can invite him for a meal to close the invoice instead of using your office as the place to close invoice. Or probably is the other way around, your client only cares about the job well done, it doesn’t matter if you close the invoice during a fancy dinner or at the office, sometimes people on the task based can find offensive if you invite him for a negotiation dinner.



For scheduling exist 2 ways to handle it, one of them is Linear time and the other one is Flexible time.

People that belongs to Linear time are very strict with scheduling, everything should be properly planned, coordinated and done according to plan. They focus on deadline and are very stick to the schedule. Countries that belongs to this group are: Germany, Japan, Switzerland, Sweden, Netherlands, US, UK, Denmark, Poland, Czech Republic.

On the other hand we have the flexible time, where people are more comfortable to changes,  things are done in a fluid manner, not so strict more flexible regarding schedules. Countries that belongs to this group are: France, Spain, Italy, Russia, Mexico, Brazil, China, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, India, Nigeria, Kenya, Colombia, Netherlands Antilles, Peru, Ecuador, Panama, Venezuela.

The scheduling is one I love most, because I have attend many people from different countries and I have realized that there are a lot of differences regarding scheduling. For example Japanese are strict about time (Linear time) but for Chinese are more flexible. Dutch and Germans are part of the linear time very organized and stick to the plan (step by step) but Spanish people deal with all issues at once and are willing to accept more changes.



There are two ways for Communicating, one is Low Context and the other one is High Context.

Low Context, is where the communication is simple, direct and clear. Not to much to explain, long messages or conversation are not appreciated or needed. Countries that belongs to this group are: US, Netherlands, Australia, Germany, Canada, Finland, Denmark, UK, Poland.

High Context, is where the communication is more fancy, with a lot of words and explanations. Same information written and spoken are appreciated. Countries that belongs to this group are: Brazil, Spain, Colombia, Netherlands Antilles, Mexico, Argentina, Italy, Singapore, France, Russia, Iran, India, Saudi Arabia, China, Kenya, Arabia, Japan, Korea, Indonesia, Peru, Ecuador, Panama, Venezuela.

With this you can understand how you should express your message to your client and also understand the way he express it to you. Sometimes you send an email explaining an issue for decision making in a detail manner but you receive a short answer, this can cause disappointment between parties because culturally are different and you expect the same as you do. For that reason it is very important to understand your counterpart so thing can goes easy.

It is highly important to understand your counterpart culture, project managers are looking always to get a successful projects that is translated into customer satisfaction. One part of this customer satisfaction is to know your client culture, get his buy in for the project, and approach him in the correct way, then I can guarantee you that invoice negotiation will be smooth and easy to close.


  1. Erin Meyer. (2015). Getting to Si, Ja, Oui, Hai, and Da. December 2015, de Harvard Business Review, Web site:
  2. Gus Lubin. (2015). These 8 Scales Reveal Everything You Should Know About Different Cultures. January 2015, de Business Insider, Web site: