Conversational Moves: when Creating a Dialogue between Companies becomes Difficult

© Article translated from the book “Negoziazione interculturale, comunicazione oltre le barriere culturali” (Intercultural Negotiation: Communication Beyond Cultural Barriers) copyright Dr. Daniele Trevisani Intercultural Negotiation Training and Coaching, published with the author’s permission. The Book’s rights are on sale and are available for any Publisher wishing to consider it for publication in English and other languages except for Italian and Arab whose rights are already sold and published. If you are interested in publishing the book in English, or any other language, or seek Intercultural Negotiation Training, Coaching, Mentoring and Consulting, please feel free to contact the author from the webstite www.danieletrevisani.com 

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In the next lines we are going to observe how complex the dialogue between companies may be and how it is possible to avoid conflicts and to reach success during a negotiation by paying attention to our own conversational moves and to those used by the interlocutor.

The dialogue between companies is full of communication difficulties that arise daily. We can look at them from a concrete perspective by observing the following case of micro-dialogue between C – a consultant – and I – an entrepreneur – who are at I’s company one morning at the request of I:

C1: So, you were telling me that you would like to train your sales network team?

I1: Yes, I would like to do some training.

C2: Which problems would you like to solve? What are the main issues, that sellers are facing now?

I2: Well, you know, they are well trained people … with experience … highly qualified people…

C3: Um, well, have you already decided on the time frame in which you would like to do the training?

I3: Well, I think it could be done in a couple of days, right? Or we can use some afternoons. How many hours do you think it would take?

C4: Well, perhaps we should try to understand first what kind of approach we should use for this training. Are you more interested in a customized training on human resources, made only for you, or do you prefer having your sales team participate in a general course, in which your employees are mixed with other participants?

I4: Well, what’s the difference?

C5: Well, the customized training is certainly different.

I5: How many sales courses have you given to companies in our sector?

C6: Look, we’ve done lots of courses, but I don’t think it matters in which sector, because a sales training is a communication training and the topics that we are going to cover are related to communication psychology. Focusing on the type of product that is being sold isn’t really that significant.

I6: But, you know, I don’t want a very theoretical course. I need something applied to my field, do you have a list of your references?

Each passage of this conversation can be analysed as a set of conversational moves. Each move brings an enormous amount of meanings and signification systems.

In this conversation, C focuses on analysing the client’s needs, while I implements a conversational misdirection that shifts the focus to C’s curriculum, and distracts him from I’s training needs. C therefore tries to bring the dialogue back to the approach that must be given to the course, while I – in move I6 – continues in its manoeuvres to shift the conversation from the training needs of its sales network team to the analysis of the consultant’s CV.

Going on with the dialogue, the underlying cultural divergences will emerge with greater force, until reaching one of the possible conclusions: an open conflict of cultures, a stalemate, or an agreement.

However, without “dismantling” the communication (in this case by recognizing the cultural and strategic value of each move) the outcome will be a probable failure.

Intercultural negotiation therefore requires great attention to conversational moves, rather than to great negotiation strategies that can fail if badly applied. The negotiation between companies can be considered the real theatre of communication, which is the negotiation conversation.

Once again, we want to highlight how the negotiation success, or rather the probability of success, can only be increased by an adequate preparation on intercultural communication, which includes both the analysis of the mechanisms of effective communication, and its cross-cultural adaptation.

Every rule must be adapted to the context in which it is applied (space, time, place, situation, etc.) and from which it arose. Cultural changes today are so rapid that the new real skill do not come from last-minute behavioural rules, but from a wider competence of the whole communication process and from the ability to adapt our own resources case by case.

"Intercultural Negotiation" by Daniele Trevisani

© Article translated from the book “Negoziazione interculturale, comunicazione oltre le barriere culturali” (Intercultural Negotiation: Communication Beyond Cultural Barriers) copyright Dr. Daniele Trevisani Intercultural Negotiation Training and Coaching, published with the author’s permission. The Book’s rights are on sale and are available for any Publisher wishing to consider it for publication in English and other languages except for Italian and Arab whose rights are already sold and published. If you are interested in publishing the book in English, or any other language, or seek Intercultural Negotiation Training, Coaching, Mentoring and Consulting, please feel free to contact the author from the webstite www.danieletrevisani.com 

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For further information see:

Intercultural Conversation Management Techniques

© Article translated from the book “Negoziazione interculturale, comunicazione oltre le barriere culturali” (Intercultural Negotiation: Communication Beyond Cultural Barriers) copyright Dr. Daniele Trevisani Intercultural Negotiation Training and Coaching, published with the author’s permission. The Book’s rights are on sale and are available for any Publisher wishing to consider it for publication in English and other languages except for Italian and Arab whose rights are already sold and published. If you are interested in publishing the book in English, or any other language, or seek Intercultural Negotiation Training, Coaching, Mentoring and Consulting, please feel free to contact the author from the webstite www.danieletrevisani.com 

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Let’s continue with the conversation analysis. In this article we will focus on various aspects of intercultural conversation and its management, because a good negotiator must always have the situation in check, without leaving even the smallest conversational detail to chance.

Rules of Courtesy and Respect for Roles

Intercultural communication, both on a diplomatic and on a business level, requires us to pay a particular attention to rules of courtesy, to the respect for roles and to the recognition of others’ identities.

On an interpersonal perspective, western urban cultures tend to “reduce distances” and to treat people as equals. From an anthropological point of view, these cultures are defined as low-context cultures. Many business and diplomatic cultures, however, are generally high-context cultures; respecting distances and roles, while mantaining boundaries until the other party offers permission to move to a more friendly and less formal level, is very important.

Moreover, in high-context cultures more space is given to allusion, rather than to direct affirmations, as occurs in low-context cultures, which are more informal. In addition to that, high-context cultures use more parables, proverbs, understatements and antiphrases (negative statements), while low-context cultures prefer to create direct relationships, using high tones, overstatements, positive and explicit expressions.

Some general rules of intercultural negotiation are therefore dictated by common sense, while others must be acquired by people who are informed about the local culture. The basic rules of courtesy are:

  • asking informed individuals how people want to be called
  • asking people directly how they want to be called (in the absence of informants);
  • avoiding nicknames or avoiding using first names without the direct permission of the subject;
  • using titles such as “Mr.” or “Miss.”, or other courtesy titles, especially with older interlocutors;
  • respecting roles (eg: President, Director, etc.) even with younger people who hold institutional roles;
  • avoiding interrupting.
Rules of Deference and Demeanor

The rules of deference and demeanor are expressed both verbally and through non-verbal communication – for example by bowing a bit while shaking hands – generally avoiding excessive manifestations. In any case, it is essencial to rember to inquire about which behaviors are normal and which are rather offensive in the other culture.

Taking cultural precepts for granted, without knowing how to understand the situation, can easily produce mistakes and misunderstandings. The rules of courtesy are therefore to be evaluated with extreme attention to the context.

The axes that connect two subjects engaged in conversation are called conversation lines.

  • To interrupt two people talking means breaking their imaginary line of conversation.
  • To let another person take the turn means establishing a line of conversation between yourself and that other person.
  • To give two people something to compare means establishing a line of conversation between those two subjects.

The lines of conversation can be both evident (through the verbal system) and subtly disguised (through the non-verbal system, like signals, gestures and nods).

Turn-taking Management

Speaking turns management mechanisms are extremely complex, although practiced by everyone every day.

The information flow that comes from the interlocutors is extremely valuable, and requires everyone to abandon a “strategy that floods information“, typical of aggressive sales, moving towards a listening strategy.

The turn-taking management training develops the negotiator’s skills in:

  • recognizing turn-taking management mechanisms;
  • knowing how to enter the conversation while respecting rules;
  • identifying moments and strategies, that can help you enter and leave the conversation;
  • creating adequate repair moves, while facing moves that can be perceived as offensive;
  • applying a conversational leadership, that consists in taking your turn consciously by becoming a “turn-taking” manager.
Content Management

The turn-taking concept mainly concerns the “person who’s talking”, while the content management mainly regards “the topic of conversation”.

First of all, we have to distinguish the skills of topic setting (fixing conversational topics), from those of topic shifting. Both strategies are part of what we call “content management conversation skills“.

Topic shifting and content management skills include:

  • the ability to recognize “what we are talking about”: details, visions, aspirations, requests, offers, datas, emotions.
  • the ability to create different phases in the conversation, for example by knowing how to produce an adequate small talk, or how to warm up the conversational atmosphere; or by knowing how to distinguish between the opening phase, used for gathering information, and the closing phase, when a conclusion is reached;
  • the ability to move the negotiation along desired or predetermined axes of content, following an agenda or a mental scheme;
  • the ability to change the conversational contents, based on what emerges during the interaction (contextual changes, situational adaptations, etc.).

Conversation re-focusing is a “hard” variant of content management and topic-shifting techniques. Re-centering consists of bringing the conversation back to a topic that the counterpart is not considering, or wants to avoid, or simply cannot grasp.

The act of re-focusing can be preceded and followed by appropriate repair moves (repair, apology, anticipation, etc.). In extreme cases, the act of re-centering can also take place without resorting to moves of repair, thus generating a pre-conflict situation that forces the counterpart to choose whether to accept a role of conversational submission or not, shifting to an open conflict.

"Intercultural Negotiation" by Daniele Trevisani

© Article translated from the book “Negoziazione interculturale, comunicazione oltre le barriere culturali” (Intercultural Negotiation: Communication Beyond Cultural Barriers) copyright Dr. Daniele Trevisani Intercultural Negotiation Training and Coaching, published with the author’s permission. The Book’s rights are on sale and are available for any Publisher wishing to consider it for publication in English and other languages except for Italian and Arab whose rights are already sold and published. If you are interested in publishing the book in English, or any other language, or seek Intercultural Negotiation Training, Coaching, Mentoring and Consulting, please feel free to contact the author from the webstite www.danieletrevisani.com 

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For further information see:

Conversation Analysis and Conversational Moves

© Article translated from the book “Negoziazione interculturale, comunicazione oltre le barriere culturali” (Intercultural Negotiation: Communication Beyond Cultural Barriers) copyright Dr. Daniele Trevisani Intercultural Negotiation Training and Coaching, published with the author’s permission. The Book’s rights are on sale and are available for any Publisher wishing to consider it for publication in English and other languages except for Italian and Arab whose rights are already sold and published. If you are interested in publishing the book in English, or any other language, or seek Intercultural Negotiation Training, Coaching, Mentoring and Consulting, please feel free to contact the author from the webstite www.danieletrevisani.com 

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In the following article we are going to introduce the concept of conversation analysis, a fundamental study that can help you improve your negotiation skills. 

To start a productive negotiation analysis, we have to distinguish between 3 different phases:

  • preparing for a negotiation” phase: briefing, data collection, interlocutors analisys, positions analisys, , preparing a list of arguments and agendas, role-playing, action lines development and testing;
  • comunication phase or front-line phase: face-to-face contact phase;
  • analysis e debriefing phase: negotiation results analysis and preparation to all next phases.

The preparation phase requires you to study the largest possible amount of information, so that you can start  the face-to face phase with a situational awareness (knowledge of the facts) and with a cultural awareness (knowledge of basic cultural elements).

The negotation phase represents the negotiating ground, the “moment of truth”, in which the most significant actions take place and, since they’re taking place during conversation, they are irreversible.

The debriefing phase is necessary to absorb information and it includes, at least:

  • a behavioral debriefing: our behaviours analysis, mistakes analysis, others’ behaviours analysis, and
  • a strategic debriefing: practical implications, results analysis, preparation of all next steps.

Negotiation usually requires different “preparation-contact-debriefing” cicles. For this reason we can assimilate it to a cyclical process.

The Conversation Analysis is one of the most useful branch of knowledge used in the communication field to understand how people interact during face-to face contacts.

From a scientific point of view the CA analyzes how people manage the conversational turns and how they try to interact, but from a practical perspective the AC possible applications are extremely rare. In fact the CA was aimed mostly at social and personal interactions and much less at dialogues between companies.

From a linguistic point of view, the ALM method, by using some concepts of the CA and numerous original additions, tries to “dismantle” the conversation by analyzing it as a set of conversational acts, to study its structure and apply it to the concrete problems of companies and organizations that have to negotiate effectively.

From the semiotic point of view, we can ask ourselves (1) what are the meanings and interpretations of meaning that each actor gives to the individual moves on a relationship level (relational semantics), and (2) what are the practical effects on the relationship itself (relational pragmatics).

Thanks to the analysis of conversational moves and of entire pieces of interaction, it is possible to help managers and negotiators (1) decoding the conversation, and (2) acquiring greater conversational skills. 

Furthermore, we can train and educate negotiators to produce a more efficient and aware conversational strategy, even within their own culture. 

The conversational moves can be defined as specific actions or “emissions” created by an interlocutor.

Some conversational moves are, for example:

  • to assert,
  • to anticipate,
  • to attack,
  • to give up a turn,
  • to ask for clarifications
  • to conquer the turn
  • etc..

Negotiation can be seen, then, as a set of moves. Each culture makes some of these repertoires its own and expands them, rejecting others, or relegating them to a few communicative areas.

In the Japanese culture, for example, saying a sharp “no” is considered a very rude act, but this does not mean that a Japanese manager can not learn saying “No” in a dry way. Relying on simple stereotypes and taking them as certainties is a mistake.

Each move is related to the subject’s previous moves and to the moves made by others.

In the intra-cultural field there are specific repertoires and coversational rules that are generally shared, while in the intercultural area the level of diversity increases, because in each culture the conversational moves are used differently.

During a negotiation, depending on the relational value, we must pay attention to:

  • approaching moves (signs of sympathy, friendship, affection, willingness to collaborate, signs of union, etc.) and 
  • distancing moves (detachment, antipathy, refusal, willingness to keep one’s distance, etc.).

If we look at the conversation contents during a negotiation, it is important to distinguish between:

  • opening moves (exploring new information, widening, broading of conversational field, etc.) and
  • closing moves (attempting to conclude, to concretize);

and also between:

  • listening moves (empathy, questions, data collection), and
  • propositional moves (statements, positions, requests).
libro "Negoziazione Interculturale" di Daniele Trevisani

© Article translated from the book “Negoziazione interculturale, comunicazione oltre le barriere culturali” (Intercultural Negotiation: Communication Beyond Cultural Barriers) copyright Dr. Daniele Trevisani Intercultural Negotiation Training and Coaching, published with the author’s permission. The Book’s rights are on sale and are available for any Publisher wishing to consider it for publication in English and other languages except for Italian and Arab whose rights are already sold and published. If you are interested in publishing the book in English, or any other language, or seek Intercultural Negotiation Training, Coaching, Mentoring and Consulting, please feel free to contact the author from the webstite www.danieletrevisani.com 

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For further information see: