Global Leadership Blog

8 Ways to Negotiate Business Through Political Conflict

Finding a way to negotiate business through political conflict can be very difficult. Last summer North Korea tested another missile–and it seemed likely that it could hit the U.S.  The White House responded with sanctions on neighboring China in hopes that North Korea’s biggest ally will rein in Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons threat.

Meanwhile, I was headed to Singapore–with a layover in Korea–and wondering what this all meant for Singapore which condemned the missile test, especially because the Chinese and Singaporeans do A LOT of business together. Doing business globally is exciting, but sometimes the open waters of opportunity can get choppy–you need to be savvy in wading through them. Here are eight ways to keep your business thriving when making deals in countries where international relations could go awry:

1. Do the math.

First thing’s first, before doing business abroad, set your budget. Decide what the financials should be and what kind of losses your business can handle in a worst-case scenario.

2. Think like Ikea.

After working the numbers, then proceed with caution.

Before making a move into U.S. territory, Ikea piloted a store–and it was a good thing they did. The furniture-maker soon realized that their product was too small for their consumers. The company had to retool its blueprint before investing more money in the region.

Running a test store and doing market research saved the company from a debilitating failure. They had an exit strategy and thankfully just needed to alter plans before moving ahead.

3. Be like Switzerland.

No matter what opinions you have on the current state of international affairs–remain neutral in your conversations with business partners. Even if others insist on discussing it, be diplomatic (particularly if your country’s politicians aren’t).

When I do business in Germany, I’m often asked about my opinion on politics, but I don’t necessarily share my own POV. Instead, I state all sides of the argument, “Some people feel this…while others think this…” This strategy allows me to keep my credibility by showing I can think and dialogue critically without offending anyone.

4. Ask, don’t tell.

Another great way to deflect questions and avoid conflict is to act like an anthropologist and ask more questions than you answer. Find out how they feel about the situation, and how it might impact them, their family, business, or society.

The information will be interesting to you and potentially useful for your business.

5. Be in the know.

If you’re doing business in a country that was recently sanctioned by your country (see, Russia and the U.S.), contact the Department of State to find out the specifics. (The U.S. has a round-up of sanctions on its website.) Some penalties may be severe while others may not have an impact on your business dealings.

It’s also a good idea to talk with local authorities to know precisely how the restrictions are impacting that area of the world.

6. Tone it down.

No matter the strength of your national pride, tone it down. Nationalism is a good thing to have, but it can be an albatross when doing business abroad. It could make you appear arrogant or ignorant.

7. Get someone on the ground.

If travel is still allowed in the country, assign someone on the project to act as a foreign diplomat.

This person will travel to the area, liaise with business partners and government officials and stay up to date on developments. The person on your team with the most reliable global mindset is the best person for this job. (You can find that out by using the Global Mindset Inventory).

8. Move Forward Cautiously

If you discover that sanctions are severe for doing business in a country your country isn’t getting along with–it’s important not to give up, but also important to not push ahead. After all, you could end up breaking the law! Use these eight tips I have mentioned to negotiate business through political conflict.

Continue to learn the possibilities that lie ahead. Keep your business partners and local authorities close to find out when, or if, things will get better; if the project can be postponed; or if it is time to throw in the towel–and move on.

A version of this post was first published on Inc. 

Photo credit: Pixabay


Melissa Lamson

About The Author

Melissa Lamson, Founder and President of Lamson Consulting, is an author, consultant, and speaker who accelerates the business expansion goals of today’s most successful companies by developing global mindset, refining leadership skills, and bridging cross cultural communication. More About Melissa Lamson