Evans (2011) has described the torturous and frustrating series of negotiations that occurred between the USA and Iran over the issue of capping of Iran’s nuclear program in exchange of lifting of sanctions. The negotiation process reflects the tenets and concepts necessary for negotiating across cultures as highlighted by Lewicki, Barry & Saunders (2015).
Evans (2011) traces the difficulties in the current negotiations on the nuclear issue between the USA and Iran to a number of factors. He attributes the 1953 Coup of Iran and the 1979 hostage crisis that manifested in the 1979 Islamic Revolution as landmark events that shaped perceptions of mistrust between USA and Iran. He attributes the dysfunction between USA and Iran to the cultural differences between Americans and Persians, and finds that differences in race, religion and language play a role in the differences (p.381). The Iranian national culture is of Islamic Orthodoxy. Many social behaviors that are tolerable in the USA are offensive to Iranian culture. The embarrassment by a guest causes ‘loss of face’ in Iran, and is a stumbling block during negotiations. Evans argues in favor of US intelligence operatives to be conversant with the food, drinks, etiquettes, social customs and protocols of Iranians, and to be able to discern motives and hidden agendas (p. 389). Iranians see themselves as ‘children of the Persian Empire’, and consider the Persian heritage superior to Western culture. Therefore, Evans advocates flattery of the Persian culture to stoke the Iranians’ ego (p. 389). Being Shiites, Iranians subscribe to the philosophy that they are ‘victims of an unjust world’ (Evans, 2011, p. 389) and are therefore suspicious of the motives of the outside world, including the CIA. The negotiations on the nuclear issue present specific minefields. Iran holds the USA to be the ‘Great Satan’ due to past US interference in Iranian affairs, while George Bush termed Iran as being part of the ‘Axis of Evil’ (Evans, 2011, 390). The negotiations between the two countries have largely been stymied by cultural differences. For Persians, the approach to resolving a conflict is through the process of ‘musalaha’ (Evans, 2011, p. 383). Musalaha incorporates culture and customs into negotiations at formal and informal levels. Musalaha mandates a process of ‘suhl’ to precede negotiations. In ‘suhl’, the framework is of a victim and of an offender. Respective families select the mediators, whose role is to restore the parties’ honor and dignity through a settlement of the dispute. Culture, respect and bringing the negotiation to a personal level are huge variables in Middle Eastern negotiations, and are prime reasons for the intractability of the US-Iran negotiations (Evans, 2011, p. 384). The negotiations are not helped by the fact that the USA and Iran have different languages and different religions, aspects that echo fault lines between civilizations according to Samuel Huntington (Evans, 2011, p. 396). Iran, with its focus on its history, is past-oriented, while the USA is future oriented. The difference in orientation stymies negotiations.
While Iran and the USA have recently reached an agreement on the nuclear issue, the entire process has not been one for jubilation for the USA. There is a global perception that the USA has yielded too much to Iran without tangible gains. Iran has retained its nuclear facilities, and could potentially restart enriching uranium after 10 years. In view of the perception, the US State Department has ordered a course for its officials to train on ‘making and receiving concessions wisely’ (Harrington, 2015). Clearly, US negotiators were not able to surmount the cultural barriers between USA and Iran for a more positive deal on the nuclear front.
Relevance to Reading Assignment
The problems in negotiations between the USA and Iran have been a classic case of problems in negotiations across cultures, and reflect the class readings. The US-Iran negotiation problems are typical of the differing ‘cultural icebergs’ (Lewicki, Barry & Saunders, 2015, p. 339) of the two countries as juxtaposed against one another. The political institutions of both countries are different: while Iran is a religious orthodoxy, the USA is a democracy. Behaviors in both cultures are different. A joke presented by an American could well be a loss of face for the Iranian. The aspects ‘below the waterline’ of the cultural iceberg reveal the deep-seated opinions and attitudes that stymie negotiations. The Persian attitude of being superior to the West stymies any common sense proposal from the USA. The Iranian persecution complex, inherited from its Shiite religion, prompts Iran to view negotiators with suspicion; this has resulted in slow progress of negotiations even after Barack Obama decided to give a fresh start to the negotiations. At the deepest level of the cultural iceberg lie deep-seated assumptions. These assumptions are certain to make their presence felt during negotiations. For instance, with their deep-seated belief of Iran ostensibly being part of the ‘Axis of Evil’, American negotiators would invariably reveal their attitudes, despite having been coached on the softer aspects of mannerisms and etiquettes. The same would be the case on the Iranian side, once they liken the USA as the ‘Great Satan’. The aspect of cultural stereotype (Lewicki, Barry & Saunders, 2015, p. 341) has relevance. While Barack Obama, with his Afro-American roots, might be culturally more attuned to Iran’s Persian attributes, the same cannot be said for the bulk of the American negotiating team, who would form the central section of the ‘bell curve’ of the American cultural stereotype. While unsaid by Evans, another aspect of poor negotiations between the USA and Iran is the difference in the directness of communication: while USA is a ‘low context culture’, with greater reliance on verbal communication, while Iran is part of the ‘high context culture’, where mannerisms and body language convey a large part of communication (Lewicki, Barry & Saunders, 2015, p. 345).
While Evans has pointed out the cultural barriers that have stymied the US-Iran negotiations in the nuclear arena, the lessons are significant and are equally applicable in the field of procurement management. Of primary importance is the realization that mannerisms and etiquettes come second, after the aspects ‘below the waterline’ of culture are harmonized. Therefore, it is important to allay deep-seated beliefs of the rival organization, should the two organizations look for success in negotiations.
In the area of procurement management, the aspect of directness of communication is important to be kept in mind; the relative obliqueness of approach of a supplier or client from a ‘high context culture’ must be taken into account while negotiating. The institutional alignment between the supplier and buyer, similarly, is important. For instance, if the supplier were interested only in profits to the seclusion of quality, there would be differences between the supplier and buyer over what constituted a mutually profitable trade. Therefore, a successful business relationship could only happen if there were a cultural and strategic fit between the supplier and buyer.
Evans, D.J. (2011). Culture as an obstacle in negotiation and mediation in Iran: Implications for intelligence operations. In International Affairs and Intelligence Studies Primer (pp. 381-406 ). Raleigh, NC: Evans Analytics. Retrieved July 07, 2015, from https://books.google.co.in/books?id=ge_KAQAAQBAJ
Harrington, E. (2015). State Department orders crash course on negotiating week after Iran deal. Retrieved July 07, 2015, from http://freebeacon.com/national-security/state-department-orders-crash-course-on-negotiating-week-after-iran-deal/
Lewicki, R.J., Barry, B., & Saunders, D.M. (2015). Negotiation across cultures. In Negotiation: Readings, exercises, and cases (pp. 337-375). New York, NY: McGraw-Hill.