A cross-cultural negotiation experience

Cross Culture - Dala dala minibus Tanzania loading up

“If you do not leave now I will miss my plane”

Cross culture negotiation is a skill that develops when you expand your knowledge about and experiences with other cultures. I applied this skill in negotiating the departure of a minibus so I could catch my plane.

After a chilly and bumpy 20-minute trip on the back of a motorbike I am in Kandete. It is 6am and I am waiting for the dala dala (minibus) to leave. Check in at Mbeya Airport is 2pm. From my trip a few days earlier I know it is tight but do-able. The dala dala shows no sign of leaving and my margin shrinks. A fellow passenger tells me they will only leave when the dala dala is full. Time to negotiate.

There are helpful tips online on how to this. Harvard Law School has a free report by Program on Negotiation. From my own experience I add a few more tips.

Stereotypes versus prototypes in culture

We tend to rely on stereotypes, widely held fixed and oversimplified views, and this sometimes leads to distorted expectations. Stereotypes assume everyone within a culture is the same. Western and African stereotypical views differ for example on time keeping, wealth, morals and knowledge.

From my own experience I know that cross culture communication improves with practice and learning. I prefer to use prototypes, something that has a central tendency but is subject to modification and improvement. Let’s apply this to my dala dala situation.

My plane departure is far removed in time from the trip down the mountain. The driver has more immediate short-term considerations like covering costs and making a living from his fares.

Making a scene

Making a scene is a no-no in Africa. The driver is also the ‘boss’ so there is nobody higher for me to refer to. Fundamental to this dilemma is the conflicting view on customer service. I pay for a transport service which I expect to include leaving as per schedule. The driver however views his actual driving people up and down the mountain as the service. His focus is on achieving a maximum return which makes it acceptable to not leave if requested. It is further made easy with his monopoly at that hour in the morning.

Such views are difficult to shift where they are widely accepted. I am in Tanzania so forcing adherence to my Western view on customer service is not realistically achievable.

So I start with casually engaging a fellow female passenger who speaks some English. By asking her questions and voicing my concern about the delay the message reaches the driver as well. A small coalition of female support is forming and I am not such a ‘stranger’ anymore. The driver casually talks about the loss of fares. We have arrived at an acceptable factor on which we can negotiate a transaction: money.

Cross culture bargaining

‘haggle’ ….to attempt to decide on a price or conditions that are acceptable to the person selling the goods [services] and the person buying them, usually by arguing:….


Haggling is an accepted way to come to an agreement on price in Africa. A crucial consideration is to assess the impact of the amount on your position. If I miss the plane I am up for another ticket and overnight accommodation. My urgency in achieving an outcome is high. The driver will leave at some stage anyway but fares from Kandete is guaranteed income. Pickups along the way is not.

One rule of haggling is to be willing to walk away. The dala dala however is the only transport down that morning. It is clear that the driver is willing to negotiate. He does not want to be responsible for me missing my connection. If something happens on the way it will not reflect negatively on him, delaying the departure will.

Our cross culture haggling includes indignation, serious faces, laughs, proposals, counter proposals and short talks with others. The driver opens at 60,000Tzs for the 3 vacant seats plus 20,000Tzs for my own fare. After counter offers we agree on 45,000Tzs and we leave. The dala dala fills up quickly and after a squashy bumpy ride and 4 more connections I catch my plane.

Personal growth for all parties

Building cross culture awareness creates personal growth. In today’s multi-cultural society this will serve you well anywhere in the world. And this is also true for the driver, he gained valuable cross culture awareness with this experience.

Here is an interesting link on negotiation for a win-win

A cross-cultural negotiation experience

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Scroll to top