Category archives: Negotiation

A Simplified Cultural Framework

“The crucial differences…are not biological. They are cultural.” Ruth Benedict, Anthropologist.

Understanding cultures is always a challenge. In today’s global economy, we have to work across different departmental, regional, national and corporate cultures.

Here’s a tool that should make it easier to meet this challenge.

Simplified cultural framework.

1. Communication styles – Direct or indirect? (adapted from Hofstede)

2. Personal drivers – emotional/functional?

3. Bureaucracy/Hierarchy check – the pencil test.

1. Communication styles.

1.1 Direct communication styles are favored by Western cultures. Direct communication gets to the point very quickly, sharing approval or disapproval very clearly.

E.g. One employee to his manager “It is now 1030 – time for tea break. The meeting will end now.”

For those from an indirect culture, they may view this method of communication as rude or confrontational. It is important to remember that this is not meant to be rude or confrontational but a method of expressing oneself. The benefits are that this method of communication make it easy for feedback and flow of information in a corporate setting.

1.2 Indirect communication styles are favored by Asian cultures. This style gives more subtle cues and hints at the desired outcome. This is in line with “saving face” of the recipient. When dealing with this style, one must be more alert to the subtle nuances and clues of the language. In a corporate setting, you will need to spend more time in meetings/negotiations. It would be better to have another person with you studying the tone and body language of the parties concerned while you listen to the words. Getting feedback would require extensive questioning. Some indirect cultures prefer one to one communication as a face saving method.

E.g. An employee mentions to his manager that the team hasn’t eaten breakfast and that is very hungry.

Another example is where the team member are silent when the manager implements a new directive. To elicit opinions, the manager should have one on one sessions with the team members. Here the questions need to be focused – allowing the other person to give suggestions to meet the end result.

2. Personal drivers.

2.1 Functional driven cultures tend to look at issues rationally in black and white. This is often common within the manufacturing industry (probably due to the heavy influence of by six sigma and kaizen).

2.2 Emotional driven cultures tend to look at  experiential and emotive things.

E.g. Purchase decision making – Shower gel. A functionally driven culture will look at price and whether the product cleans. A functionally driven culture will also tend to take shorter time in the shower.

An emotionally driven culture will look at smell and sensory perceptions in deciding to purchase the shower gel.

Within the culture, there may be items which are emotional and some which are functional. In some cultures, religion can inflame passions, while discussions on the work week and working hours are merely functional.

Questions to ask:-

a.Is the issue emotional or functional?

b. If emotional then is there an alternative around it? If functional, how can we address this?

E.g. A Muslim manager on an oil rig in Myanmar issued a directive that no pork would be served. That same afternoon, a call came from the minister’s department telling him that pork will be served on the oil rig. The manager had touched on an emotional issue. Pork was tied in with national dishes and national pride. His reports had not voiced their concerns directly (indirect culture) but as it was an emotional issue, they channeled their frustrations to the ministry. A better way to handle this would’ve been to have a short chat with the reports on a one on one basis, explaining why he wasn’t comfortable with pork in the galley. He should have sought their advice on the best solution. A compromise could have been a separate area designated as pork free.

3. Bureaucracy/Hierarchy check – the pencil test.High or low?

This looks at organizations and the levels of bureaucracy.

3.1 High level e.g. In one organization, we needed the signatures of 4 people to obtain office stationary. This organization had a lot of controls on its people. Common features include slow decision making as well as possible disconnect between the levels of management. When dealing with this culture, we need to accept the slower pace of decision making.

3.2 Low level e.g. In another company, not only did we have free access to the office stationary, we also had access to the very expensive corporate gifts for the CEO, which included Mont Blanc pens. Common features include an empowered workforce as well as faster decision making. When working with this culture, be prepared for swift decisions from lower levels of the organization.

I hope this framework proves useful to dealing with different cultures. Feel free to share your own experiences in the comment box.





Interview with Astro Awani

This is an excerpt of a recent TV interview on Astro Awani where we discuss the fact that the teambuilding training rarely results in a positive return on investment. It’s a snappy 6 minute clip.

Lessons from…our journey into hospitality

Our company has just entered the hospitality business. Yes, we just started renting out our creative room. Here are some lessons that we learned from it.

1. Customer focus. Being a patron of the boutique hotels, I love the small things. Chocolates at dinner, an occasional tea/coffee on the house… these small things show that people care and provide a huge return on investment. Some of the guests at our creative room said that they wanted Milo and Ikea biscuits. Milo and Ikea biscuits weren’t in the contract. Actually, I overheard them say that they liked the biscuits and “it would be nice to have Milo”. Yes putting Milo and biscuits was an additional cost not in the budget. We made sure it was there. We also sought feedback on the tea breaks and made sure that we put in tea breaks that they liked. We monitored the tea breaks to see which ones had a lot of leftovers and which ones people enjoyed.

For the participant who was fasting, we gave him a pack of biscuits to take home for his iftar.

Trying to exceed customer expectations led to ice cream at tea breaks as well as teh halia and soya bean.

2. Processes and Planning. We made sure our partners worked according to our schedule. We made sure the internet provider, coffee suppliers, caterers, cleaners, water bottle suppliers, food suppliers knew our schedule and requirements. Being open with our partners helped them plan accordingly to ensure seamless delivery.

3. Backup. We have worked with a local restaurant to have a backup barista in case we need it. We also make sure we have spare suppliers of water and other essentials in case of glitches. You may not need your backup 90% of the time but you are really glad to have it for the other 10%.

We apply the three lesson for continuous learning and improvement. We constantly think about how to make things better for our customer – how to give them the WOW experience. By constantly keeping ourselves on our toes and looking for improvements we hope to stay ahead of the curve.

My interview on BFM

I was recently interviewed on BFM to speak about Generational Diversity. It was fun to talk about how we can learn and apply techinques to deal with the different generations in our everyday life as well as our professional life.

Juarez Lowe on the Bigger Picture

Attached is a link to an earlier interview on Negotiation Skills.

Juarez Lowe – Negotiation Toolkit

Lessons from the local DVD shop via Live and Inspire Magazine

I have just started writing for Live and Inspire Magazine. My first article is on business lessons from the local pirated DVD shop. Do click here to read it.

Corp Talk : Lessons from the local DVD shop, by Juarez Lowe

I teach classes on leadership and professional skills. One of the frequently asked questions in my classes is for an example of a well-run business. People often look at GENikeApple and other multi nationals.

I like sharing the example of the local pirated DVD shop. This shop is quite small (less 500 square feet) and ironically located in front of a police station. Click here to read the rest.

An interesting way to get a job

Jason Zimdars showed that he really wanted his job. He showed his willingness to join the new company by setting up a website designed for his job application. His website was detailed and focused and more importantly – it was tailored to the company and the role.

What I like about this website was the amount of time Jason spent tailoring his resume to the job. His layout is perfect splitting the cover page into “Let’s talk about me” and “Let’s talk about you”. He establishes the following:-

1. He has done his research on 37signals and is very candid about the company.

2. He gives examples of great design which help illustrate his passion for design. When you hire someone, you want to hire someone who is passionate about their work. Here he cites the “designed by apple in California” as the most brilliant thing to appear on a package. His interests are definitely a step up from the “travel, read and write” I have read on so many resumes. Again indirectly he shows his passion for his hobbies as well as a passion for excellence.

3. He doesn’t put down his current employer. In fact he has really good things to say about it. Refrain from complaining about your current employer. This makes you appear infinitely more mature.

He also goes on to list testimonials about his work as well as his design process. At the end of each page he has his contact details with the words “So what do you think?” at the top.

People like Jason think out of the box and will definitely stand out among the ocean of resumes. You may also want to look at the Inc article “Never Read Another Resume” by his employer, Jason Fried, co-founder of 37signals.

Key learnings

1. Stand out from the crowd. Think about how you can differentiate yourself in your job application or resume.

2. Tailor your resume to the company. Write your cover and resume in terms of what you can do for them.

Using this will help you get the job of your choice.

Cross selling and income streams

Cross selling is defined by the Oxford English Dictionary as

“the action or practice of selling among or between established clients, markets, traders, etc.”

or “that of selling an additional product or service to an existing customer”.

To highlight this, lets look at my favourite little Iranian stall at the Gardens Mall Food Court. It’s a simple stall run by an Iranian family. The food is simple, fresh and tasty. A lot of the customers are from the Middle East. Personally, I love their kebabs, rice and salads.

Recently, I noticed the stall started selling phone cards (with low rates to Iran and the Middle East). This is an ideal product for their customer base which will generate them extra revenue with minimal external outlay. Capital expenditure is small. They just need to purchase (maybe even on consignment) and offer the phone cards for sale. Placement was in a clearly visible area. Comparing the two products:-

1. Food products – limited lifespan, labour intensive, fluctuations in taste.

2. Phone cards – long lifespan, no labour, no fluctuation in rate and consistent quality.

Given the similar target market it would make more sense to sell this complementary product as opposed to even perhaps introducing a new dish!

The other product placed there was an Iranian magazine called Monorail. It was very focused on the Iranians in Malaysia with relevant advertisements and articles. This was probably a targeted placement by the magazine which produced a win-win for publisher and stall owner. The stall owner has a magazine for the lone diners (which attracts them thus increasing sales) and the magazine can hit its relevant target market (hence enhancing advertising sales).

This is a simple and easy to understand case on cross selling.

Key takeaways

1. Understand your target market – what do they need and are these needs being met?

2. If not – what additional value add could you give to them?

Revisit this on a regular basis and you will be surprised at your new revenue.

Getting the most out of your training provider

Here’s a few tips on how to get the most out of your training provider.

1. Determine your objectives from a company point of view. What does the company hope to acheive with the training? This will help you plan out the training for the year. Eg. If you are looking at a turnaround plan for your team you would probably need 9 days of focused training and not a one day program. List down 3 key objectives of the training.

2. Look at your training providers list of clients. Call up their references. Are the clients from a single group or are they from a diverse group of companies? If the client base cuts across industries and size of companies, this means that the training provider is able to tailor their material according to it’s clients.

3. Look at the trainer. Do they have real life working experience relevant to the training? E.g has the negotiations trainer conducted high level negotiations between companies? Has he/she achieved positive results?

4. Look at the training methodology used. The lecture style is very tired and will induce sleepiness! How much of the training is focused on interactivity and implementation of the theory vs just the theory. For example our negotiation courses are 20 percent theory and 80 percent activity/role-play and de-brief.

By using these methods you will be able to work more effectively and efficiently with your training provider.

Melium-Tatler Charity Auction 16 October 2009

We are donating 2 days of training in Strategic Negotiation Skills for this charity auction. The online bidding is live now at Proceeds go to WAO, SIS, Yayasan Nur Salaam and Institute Tengku Ampuan. Do show your support by coming (tickets are RM1,000 or bidding either online or in person).

juarezlowe Corporate Training - Charity Auction picture

juarezlowe Corporate Training - Charity Auction picture

Checking in (to the hospital)

Recently, my wife had the misfortune of being checked into a hospital. She was referred by our GP and we took her to the A&E section. When checking her in, the hospital asked me which type of room we would like. I was offered a double room (shared with one other occupant) – RM188, single room – RM288, deluxe single room – RM388, executive room – RM488 and the executive suite – RM688. I was already in a rather stressed state. My question of what’s the difference? – got me shown a list of all the furniture in each room. In my stressed state I couldn’t really work out the difference was in rooms with an extra side table or fridge or microwave and took the basic single room.

Possible improvement. A hospital room is a fixed cost to the hospital. What should they do to maximize this revenue? They could take a leaf out of the hotel industry and look at occupancy rates and have variable pricing, i.e. should occupancy be low, they could offer upgrades at lower prices. In this case the lady could’ve informed me that the rate for the single room was RM288 and the deluxe single at RM388 but for this evening, I could upgrade to the deluxe single for RM350. During the entire time I was there the executive suite was empty which is a lost opportunity cost to the hospital. Offering an upgrade to the executive suite for RM490 would have generated incremental revenue to the hospital.

Customer focus – The check in staff should have been trained to look at the room from the point of view of customer benefits. They should’ve sold the room not based on the furniture but ask key questions (see below for egs).

Sample sales pitch

“Do you have a lot of people who will be visiting? Will you need to take a nap there as well? Maybe you should then upgrade to a room with a sofa.”

After the check in we discovered that hospital food was really bad (big epiphany!). Yes, we are not booking into a hotel, but really, the food was not just bad, it was inedible. Given the location of the hospital, it would probably make more sense to close the cafeteria and outsource all the cooking to one of the nearby restaurants. They could hire a motorcycle rider/van and just bring food in whenever necessary. They would have to deal some other issues such as low fat and healthy food and food hygiene during transportation, but that should be easily overcome with the right chef.


The hospital industry could benefit from the following:-

1. Customer focus – looking at things from the customer point of view from food to rooms.

2. Cross industry learning – taking lessons from hotel and restaurants in terms of processes.