Negotiating in turbulent Mexican waters
Being able to negotiate successfully in a language that is not your mother tongue demands a great deal of your linguistic skills. If you want your arguments to be convincing, you have to speak the language very well indeed. Into the bargain, a condition of success in negotiating requires knowledge of the customs and culture of your future business partners so that you can communicate with them appropriately. If you get it wrong, the negotiation could well be over before it has truly started! Bluewater Energy Services BV, originally a Dutch company, has obviously got it right.
Bluewater operates globally in the oil and gas sector. “We are currently in negotiation with a large Mexican company because we want to position one of our ships off the Mexican coast in the Gulf of Mexico. We’re doing the negotiations ourselves, supported by the local Bluewater representative”, explains Lodewijk Franken, Bluewater’s Business Development Manager.
The company is renowned for its enormous floating vessels called FPSOs (floating production, storage and offloading units) that pump oil and gas up from below the seabed. Water and gas are then separated and the oil is stored in the vessel’s tanks. When the tanks are full, shuttle tankers transport the oil to on-shore terminals. Bluewater owns five of these FPSOs and one is now available for the Mexican market.
Well prepared for negotiations with the Mexicans
“The situation so far is that in addition to the local Bluewater representative, with his network of important contacts, we have also engaged a local lawyer, who of course knows the law of the land and is familiar with the industry. So, although we do the negotiations ourselves, we are supported by others who have a wide network of contacts as well as knowledge of the law. It is important to know exactly what the other party’s expertise and background is before going into a negotiation. This is certainly the case if the negotiating partners work for the largest organization in Central America. “There are many interests at stake”, explains Mr Franken.
Twelfth economy in the world
Mexico’s economy is the twelfth in the world and is growing even more quickly than that of Brazil. Most of Mexico’s revenue comes from oil and that is why it is an interesting business partner for Bluewater, which is one of the few FPSO companies that is able to operate in the turbulent Mexican waters.
So far Mr Franken has mostly used English in his discussions with his business partners. Now that he has learned to speak Spanish, he can give technical presentations and have informal non-technical discussions in Spanish. He can also understand his Mexican partners. “I have noticed that they really appreciate the fact that I’m speaking their language. At first it went slowly, but I’m improving all the time. I’m beginning to speak and to understand more quickly now. The longer I’m in Mexico, the better it gets.”
Great conversations with the language trainers
In order to come to grips with the language, Mr Franken had two separate weeks of Spanish training at Regina Coeli. “As well as learning the language, I thoroughly enjoyed my conversations in Spanish with the language trainers. I could talk to them about the Latin American culture and they gave me some great tips about specific traditions and customs. I also discovered that I thoroughly enjoyed using the language. I was very disciplined during my weeks in Vught and my plan now is to continue working on my language skills by reading books and magazines and watching short films in Spanish. That way I will be able to keep up my current language level.”
The boss is all important
During his visits to Mexico, Mr Franken noticed that Mexican and Dutch business cultures differ considerably. “To begin with, I was amazed to see so many people present during the negotiation process, although most of them did not take an active role. Later on, I understood that it is to do with their business culture. The boss has an important central position and is visibly supported by his staff. Another big difference is the tradition of long and late lunch hours. But then they work through until 9 p.m. and later, if necessary. Every time we go over there, we learn something new about the Mexican culture. It is fascinating.”
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