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West Point Negotiation Project Hosts Cross Cultural Negotiation Panel
by 2LT David White
West Point, New York – 11 March, 2009
Today, U.S. Army Major Aram Donigian, Co-Director of the WPNP, hosted a Cross Cultural Negotiation Panel with members from distinguished and unique backgrounds. The panel featured Lieutenant-Colonel Matt Whitney, Ms. Elia Tello, Professor Hans Brechbuhl, and Major Chip Cook. LTC Whitney, who recently served as the Advisor to the Chief of Plans, Iraqi Ground Forces Command is currently an Instructor of Chinese at West Point. Ms. Elia Tello, currently a Media Relations Officer to the New York Foreign Press Center, joined the Foreign Service and served as the Panama and Honduras Desk Officer and later Deputy Press Attaché for the U.S. Embassy in Rome, Italy. Professor Hans Brechbuhl is a West Point graduate and current Executive Director for the Center for Digital Strategies at the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth, and has experience in building corporate sponsorships with Fortune 500 companies. MAJ Chip Cook, also a West Point graduate, served as Foreign Area Officer before his current assignment to West Point as an Instructor of Russian.
All members of the panel offered a wealth of knowledge gleaned from personal experience. Professor Brechbuhl emphasized how learning a foreign language not only equips a leader with language skills, but, perhaps even more importantly, teaches about the culture of the people. In fact, several members of the panel explained that even if a leader is proficient in a foreign language, he or she should still utilize their interpreter to add value to their negotiation. A cadet’s question on how to identify the most powerful person in a room while in a foreign culture prompted a valuable lesson from LTC Whitney. LTC Whitney explained how often in some cultures the person who occupies the highest position in the organization is actually not always the most powerful person. By taking into account informal power structures, non-verbal language, and an understanding of the culture leaders can spot the true leaders sometimes hidden within an organization.
MAJ Cook emphasized learning a few words in another cultures language that can be used during the introduction as an icebreaker. Such attempts to learn about the other party’s culture demonstrate a level of caring that enhances the relationship with the parties, ultimately leading to improved mutual agreements. These specific lessons and many others were the highlight of the highly valuable Cross Cultural Negotiation Panel hosted by MAJ Aram Donigian of the West Point Negotiation Project.