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A zero-sum game? Valuable insights into negotiating with Russians

Oct 12, 2017

Trump and Putin


Key Insights to Understand Russians.
An interview with Jeroen Ketting.


Mr. Ketting, thank you for taking the time for this interview. In your experience, how do cultural characteristics affect today’s business dealings in Russia? 

Cultural characteristics always affect international business dealings and those with Russia as well. However, cultural characteristics are only a secondary factor affecting international business dealings. The primary factor affecting international business dealings, and those with Russia as well, is our inability to empathize with our international business partners and understand, respect and accept their perspective. Ego, is the main barrier to effective international business dealings combined with a lack of understanding of our personal values and vision and our corporate values and vision. You can’t communicate what you can’t formulate and you can’t create an effective rapport if you cannot start from shared values and vision.

What is a most important aspect when negotiating with Russian partners?
The most important aspect to understand is that Russians relate differently to uncertainty, contradictions and relativity. For Russians, the combination of these factors leads to a perception of strength whereas most westerners would try to achieve certainty, confirmation and absolutes in order to perceive strength.

Russians are more short-term (tactically) oriented whereas westerners are more long-term (strategically oriented).

Another important notion is the fact that negotiations are a zero-sum game for Russians in which you win or lose. A win-win situation for a Russian is a situation where he wins once and a second time as well. Because of this zero-sum nature you should be careful in “giving away” any negotiation room or make compromises. When you do this, there is a big chance that your Russian counterpart says: “Thank you for this step in my direction. Now we start to re-negotiate from that new premise”.

How do Russians enter/start a negotiation?
Usually with a wait and see attitude or with a domineering attitude.

What is typical of a Russian negotiation process?
The negotiation is not necessarily a linear process. Russians may jump from one topic to the other. Time is also not a linear process. Negotiations may drag on without any apparent reason and when you are ready to give up and go home you may reach a deal in a matter of minutes.

Are relationships important in negotiations with Russian partners?
The personal relationship is key to having effective business relations with Russian partners. However, the personal relationship is not your guarantee for “easy sailing”. The relationship is often your entry ticket but once you’re in the game starts.

What are from your perspective the major tactics used in Russian business negotiations?
The main tactics would be psychological tactics. Aims can be to create early rapport and “buy-in”, to disbalance and to disorient.

There is also a double standard according to which that what is expected from the foreigner, is not reflected in the behavior of the Russian.

How can one best prepare for a negotiation with Russian partner? Please share 3 tips.

  1. Know your counterpart and make sure your delegation matches the authority level of the Russian delegation (Russians may take very swift or very slow decisions but in the case of swift decisions you want to be sure you have the mandate to agree or not agree).
  2. Make sure you do your homework on the subject matter as Russians usually have a very detailed technical understanding of the subject matter.
  3. Don’t make assumptions (and think you understand what’s going on).

Are there any DO's and & DONT's when negotiating with Russians?

  1. Focus on clear goals

  2. Understand, respect and accept (don’t judge)

  3. Depersonalize your perspective

  4. Start from shared interests and values

  5. Have patience, keep your options open, and be consistent

  6. Be assertive and alert in your communication

  7. Keep composure and stick to your game-plan

  8. Be open, do not be afraid to ask open questions, use the time at the table to clarify everything you need to clarify

  9. Always finish the negotiation with Russians by summarizing the agreements and agreeing on the clear next steps

In his seminar, Jeroen Ketting, a Dutch entrepreneur and subject matter expert in dealing with Russians, will help you decode Russia's business etiquette and unlock the potential of growth opportunities, by effectively negotiating with Russian partners .

The event will be held in Vienna on the 15th of November 2017. Registrations are open.

Contact Harrys Spyridakos at to secure your spot.