Sensitivity to Social Cues Essential in Cross-Cultural Real Estate Negotiation

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Negotiating strategies that successfully drive real estate deals in the U.S. may not have the same impact when meeting with international clients. Depending upon the culture, a focused, straightforward negotiating style (which might work in the U.S.) can be seen as aggressive, insincere, or disrespectful. This is especially important since the global market is constantly growing, especially in China.1

As with any real estate transaction, each party should be aware of the motivations for all parties in the deal. However, doing business on a global stage also requires understanding cross-cultural nuances.

Understanding Social Cues

Understanding social cues is a critical component of being an effective negotiator in global markets. Proficiency in cultural differences in business negotiation builds rapport that negotiators may favorably leverage later in the process. However, it is essential to note that cultural cues can vary widely, as illustrated below.

  • Eye contact. Successful negotiators understand the importance of subtle cross-cultural nuances such as eye contact. Some cultures treat eye contact as a sign of sincerity; others find it presumptuous. Research the preferred style before sitting down to negotiate.
  • Attitudes toward alcohol. Some cultures accept (or even expect) drinking to be part of business meetings, while others frown on alcohol use, whether due to cultural or religious beliefs.
  • Gifts. Gift-giving is a vital business tradition in Japan and China. In other cultures, it is viewed as appropriate but less important.
  • Punctuality. This can be a complex concern. Many cultures look down on being late to a meeting, but in some societies, a worse offense is leaving a meeting prematurely (even one that may be running late, making you tardy for the next meeting).
  • Handshaking. Although the handshake is accepted fairly universally, how it’s delivered can be significant. For instance, some cultures (Brazil) encourage warm, personal handshakes, while U.S. professionals typically employ firm, business-like handshakes.

Other Considerations: Unconscious Behavior

Understanding culturally accepted conduct and practicing social sensitivity is essential in negotiations, but so is controlling unconscious behavior. For instance, finger-tapping may be interpreted as impatience in some cultures.

Here are a few more examples:

  • French professionals place a premium on building relationships, and they may prefer to take their time getting to know their counterparts. As such, initial business meetings may be conversations rather than exploring the real estate transaction specifics.
  • In Great Britain, tapping the nose can indicate a discussion involves something of an important, secretive matter. As a result, unconscious touching the nose can create confusion.
  • In Middle Eastern countries, showing the bottom of your shoe to another person is considered a sign of disrespect.

Whose Culture Comes First in Cross-Cultural Negotiation?

Which customs should be honored in a cross-cultural real estate deal? Remember the cliché “When in Rome...” Visitors to a foreign country should learn the local norms of their hosts. While a U.S. negotiator may make minor slip-ups, the fact that they have made an effort to understand cultural preferences can reflect respect.

The Importance of an Advanced Real Estate Degree

There are many skills needed to succeed as an international real estate professional. Independently researching local customs and conducting business with those customs in mind is a great way to enhance the skillset needed to be an international real estate professional.

But that is just a start. The online master’s degree program at Georgetown University includes foundational courses in law, finance, accounting, and global markets—all of which can help real estate professionals take their careers to the next level. Earning a Master’s in Real Estate provides professionals with insights into cultural sensitivities to consider as professional real estate negotiators.

If you would like to learn more about the online Master’s in Real Estate program offered by the Georgetown University School of Continuing Studies, request information online or call an admissions representative at (855) 725-7622. You can also apply now.


  1. Singapore Management Review, vol. 26, no. 1, Jan.-June 2004, pp. 81+. Gale Academic OneFile, Cross-cultural challenges when doing business in China - Document - Gale Academic OneFile. Accessed 8 Mar. 2022.

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