What I've learned about myself being abroad or "How to deal with Russians".

Purely multicultural, fully immersive and independent experience of my own once triggered as much intense inner reflections, as I even tried to sum up not only my personal attitude on them, but rather to make some R&D activities, generalise and structure them. As my individual overall and biggest international challenge turned out to be "Russian guy" (and consequently, vodka, caviar,  Crimea) over stereotyping, I have had author's lenses focused on this particular aspect of my identity.    


Russian negotiation style, as a reflection of legal, business and social culture in Slavic cultures, is an amazing phenomena in general, embodying the whole complex of harmonious behavioural contradictions, which might be reasonably hated, but they should better be loved and endlessly comprehended instead. 

It has become possible to summarise and highlight my own experience and retrospective observations in the field of communications in Russia only by scrutinising peculiarities of negotiations in other countries. Throughout their retrospective comparison, as well as thorough analysis of internal business communication processes and trends in the context of negotiations it became possible to come to some interesting, but not in fact original conclusions. 

Thus, apart from linguistically determined features in Russian negotiating style and business communications in the modern era, one can find a strict correlation with almost a century of Soviet diplomatic school, whose highly professional approach and attention to the fulfilment of obligations by all parties to the agreement is still remembered by foreign partners. At the same time, it is also known fact, that comprehensiveness in contracts design and scrupulousness in their management has eliminated practice of their rapid approval and widespread implementation, which is now typical for the modern approach to the conduct of Russian crown corporations. Although, reputation of impeccable international obligations’ fulfilment was not ingrained into internal business relations of our time, which is not the case about the widespread Soviet tradition to consider almost any compromise or concession on its part as a loss of dignity and, in general, a fatal act, incompatible with life. 

Influence of the prison subculture on negotiating tradition in modern Russia is also enormous and requires individual consideration. In general, it is enough to mention ubiquitous custom of splitting communications "for members" and "for everyone else" in everyday business practice, unspoken singularity of partners recognition by “friend-or-foe” identification system on the very first appearance), as well as almost non-alternative predominance of personal meetings in the entire palette structure of the contemporary communication channels (phone conversations designates for the transmission of short prompt reports or instructions mostly). 

State-like proxy business in Russia demonstrates the same quality of rigidly hierarchically-vertical pattern in communications as it was in Soviet period, with the only difference that, at present, somewhat detailed “bottom-to-up" communication flows are not excluded, but still one-sided only. So, for instance, cell phone conversations, from a mid-level manager (yet a rare bird in Russia) now sound like a series of consecutive and paused "yes" and “nope" word sentences (more often "yes", of course). 

Speaking on the subject of communicational vectors in communications between companies within Russia, it is important to keep in mind another rudiment, left from Soviet past. This is the concentration of various think tanks and lobbying centres in Moscow, basically meant for a fix-a-problem function (especially for those problems, which in the regular course of business may look like unsolvable). This circumstance determines nearly mandatory necessity to have an administrative presence for almost any business in the capital city, wether this is a person or office. 

In regards to corporate culture, modern Russia originated companies, with the exception of small businesses, almost entirely fit Family type model regardless of its scale. Combined with a leadership style of X class at crown companies and state-like proxy business, professional management competence is almost completely replaced by personal loyalty to a superior leader and proved by readiness to take it and execute any orders unconditionally. 

In general, managerial negotiation style of both the Soviet nomenclature and modern corporate manager is well described by the military intelligence term "active defence”. This is when a decision-maker only reacts to the proposals of the “counter-party” to the negotiations, makes no detailed proposals himself, but controls the entire business process as a whole. A striking case of this practice is the typical bureaucratic procedure of document work flow, required a short handwriting resolution on a document being made. Exciting, hah? 


And yet, it seems that the fundamentals for the Russian and EEC negotiating culture features has being predetermined long before the Soviet period of Slavic history, as a result, modern cultural code bearers as a whole are characterised by above average communicative and mental universality in comparison to some other. Leaving the question of the primacy of business communications beyond this topic, the fact of Russia’s geographical centrality to the trade routes "from the Varangians to the Greeks" (from the Baltic Sea to the Mediterranean Sea) and the "Great Silk Road" (from East to the West) gives an idea and historical predetermination to Russia's unique ability to integrate, and thus, effectively communicate the most contradictory relations. As for negotiations in the global sense, this fact makes the bearer of the Russian negotiating mentality indispensable for interests harmonisation purposes in both internal and intermediary communications. Perhaps, this explains Russian mentality's propensity for diametral polarity in thinking (“the best or nothing”, “it’s now or never”) and the potential ability of Russian negotiator to work effectively with absolutely different partners positions. 

At the same time, extremes in thinking, combined with defensive negotiating rhetoric (that requires to create some sense of unpredictability) which in Russian and EEC negotiation practice often displays itself by fanatic persistence to its own negotiating position, might easily be twisted to a sudden complete acceptance of the proposal. 

It is traditional for the logic of a Russian negotiator, however, for the most part, to consider the size of the negotiated result of a deal as known in advance, and the purpose of negotiations as ensuring a share for oneself, regardless of the synergistic effect known from economic theory and in applied mechanics as a resonance effect. That very effect, that allows merging efforts before (knowledge, profits) and after a merger (companies, interests) to exceed the sum of efforts (knowledge, profits) of these companies in isolation from one another. In my opinion, this feature is best explained by the once-bitten-twice-shy proverb in a memory of the adverse consequences of an open and excessively trusting attitude to external partners. 

It also might be considered as uniquely Russian tradition for negotiator to not bargain a price at all, referring to this parameter of the agreement as fixed one, both on foreign and domestic markets. 

For example, Oleg Tinkov's exit from his dumplings company to Abramovich’s Holding was conditioned by a face-to-face meeting with the oligarch requirement, instead of a transaction price leveraging, which seemed quite reasonable given the opportunity to monetise an important contact in another, more meaningful way. 


Within many new foreign intercultural interaction, as a Russian, I have to observe how often the first staged smile during the first handshake changes into a well hidden cautious grimace after I answer the question where I am from. 


- Where are you from? - I'm from Russia! - Which part? - All of me! 

As it turns out, this reaction is the result of an influence on personal perception of a number of stereotypes, one of which is unpredictability of Russians. In order to understand how deeply media-driven attitude towards my negotiating partner's thinking is penetrated, I used to "turn on" traditional Russian (and Irish) sarcasm whenever possible, and following the message that I'm from Russia, I go with that “I drink vodka every morning and seize other people's territories for fun” in hope to awake partner’ conscious for a more sublime, than a standard, unbiased conversation with a businessman. 

Cross-cultural negotiators should keep in mind fair foreign partners understanding, that modern Russia exports nothing, but weapons, fossil oil, and corruption (and a bit of ballet, luckily) so, when Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, or Tchaikovsky are mentioned for the purpose of placing themselves in a position to show their knowledge about Russian culture, it is entirely their own merit. At this point, normally, knowledge of Russia, except now for the Ukrainian context, traditionally comes to an end. Meanwhile, representatives of Arab countries (Algeria, Iran, Saudi Arabia), Latin America (primarily Cuba), the Korean peninsula, China and India, due to the political and military ties with USSR, are knowingly kind towards people of modern Russia. In all other cases, one can rely on his strong personality only, when first gets acquainted, except with intellectuals or people of arts. 

Another common perception about Russian negotiation style as only confrontational is also makes sense and so widespread, that even twice has formed the basis for the recent election campaign of North American political leaders. For example, Justin Trudeau explicitly proves his Canadian masculinity by not being afraid to meet with Vladimir Putin, therefore, perhaps should be elected as Prime Minister. Donald Jr. Trump, in his turn, dreamed of making sure that “Russians can be agreed upon” by sitting at the negotiating table as the U.S. president. 

Strangely enough, it is also currently believed that, along with so called "Russian imperialism” complex, all Russians are bearers of slave pathological psychology. Um.. 

It is quite interesting to reflect on the effect of Russians’ and EEC representatives’ stereotype of being undisciplined, while realising that, sometimes, what happens in Russia and around has no rational explanation at all, and takes place in spite of, rather than thanks to, managerial efforts. This phenomena actually can easily be explained, although, not explicitly. 

Specificity of Russian communication style was once the subject of research by some outstanding writers and philosophers as I. A. Ilyin, N. A. Berdyaev, L. N. Tolstoy, A. I. Solzhenitsyn and many others, who altogether came to the conclusion that Russian man lives “by heart", empathising and participating in affairs of others, while extreme Western mentality is more characterised by rational, intellectual comprehension of communications. At this context, in my boldly shared opinion, the key strength of EEC and Russian negotiators is in the ability of simultaneous realistic thinking and irrational perception, which, combined with peacekeeping mindset ("a thin world is better than a good fight") allows them to effectively mediate in the most pressing issues of domestic issues and beyond. 


Dmitry Efremovich Vasilevsky, who is considered to be the founder of the Russian negotiation tradition itself, then has established the main quality of the agent in negotiations - knowledge of human nature and focus on truth and justice, which in itself, unique and clearly opposes the conquest concept of Machiavelli, taken as a basis for the modern Western diplomatic world. Vasilevsky's concept also stands apart from the Eastern principles of patience and cunning, laid down in Sun Lao Tzu's treatise “The Art of War”. 

Tactically, Russian negotiation style often corresponds to the aphoristic “Russians are slow to mount but ride fast” saying, which in practice is expressed in the tendency to "go with the flow" up until the decisive moment. But when decisive action is required, initiative is taken, which also corresponds to “active defence” tactic, that require sprint-wise, although well-prepared initiatives at the most appropriate moment. Isn't that why Russians and Russia are associated with the bear? 

Perhaps the natural tendency to reciprocate can be explained by the peculiarity of exclusively Russian negotiation tradition in a somewhat disdainful attitude towards formalities in general and rules in particular, which demonstrates clearly in tendency to prioritise relationships over any laws. At the same time, in Russian business culture, great importance is assigned to the oral promise, which has gone down in history as "the word of honour" and "the word of an officer". Russian modern folklore also confirms this idea by saying "the severity of laws in Russia is compensated by the optionality of their observance”. Poor lawyers. 

From the language affiliation point of view, this can be easily explained by alleged chronological primacy of Russian oral speech over written speech, which, ironically, stands in the strict contradiction with modern text-digital culture of communications and dealmaking practice. 

When analysing Russian culture of negotiations, one should take into account inherent Slavic intolerance for lies and extraordinary sensitivity to the truth. Thus, modern experts in business management confirm that regular Western communicational methods of sales growth in consumer market do not work in Eastern Europe, and, in case, if negotiator has limited power to speak only the language of truth, - he (and she) will certainly let it be known by any of numerous rhetorical devices or non-verbally. That is why, in Russia, conflict mitigation is not so troublesome, - most often the parties involved in the problem actively contribute to an objective assessment of circumstances, which in itself may be necessary and sufficient to resolve the dispute. 

Normally, natural desire for truthfulness in communications is harmoniously combined with a sense of humour and the ability to think out of the box. Thus, one of the iconic techniques of Russian diplomacy is so-called "asymmetric response", which excludes confrontation escalation, on the one hand, and provides an effective leverage into confrontational situation, on the other. This very technique was implemented in the case of the economic embargo against Turkey in response to the shooting down of a Russian military aircraft in 2016 during “Syrian” operation. 

Another one specific feature of Slavic negotiation style is also the propensity to create one's own image as a modest, simple person, which can be expressed in clothing, mannerisms and speech simplicity. This feature, in an incredible way, blends with the importance for the Russian negotiator to maintain an image of his own status and authority. 

Official Russian classical negotiation tradition, oriented to the unity of the parties, necessarily includes elements of intercultural interaction through the exchange of best practices in cuisine, theatre, ballet and music.

(Except from "Creators Negotiate", Ilya Chernobay)

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