Cross Cultural Communication and Negotiation in Japan

Published 20 Dec 2016

Cultural differences can be perceived in the very nature of the negotiation, and three such differences can be examined. First, Westerners accept that many negotiations can have casual elements, for example either beginning with the friendly exchange of information and opinions on unrelated topics before launching into the first part of the business, or throughout the encounter moving from business to chat and back again. In some other cultures even the chat requires a greater formalization, either in procedure or in seriousness of tone.

The Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary (1980) defines culture as “the incorporated pattern of human behavior that includes thought, speech, action, and artifacts and depends on man’s competence for learning and transmitting knowledge to succeeding generations” and “the customary beliefs, social forms, and material behavior of a racial, religious, or social group.” These definitions point to numerous important aspects of culture. First, culture permeates all human behaviors and interactions. Second, culture is shared by members of a group. And third, it is handed down to newcomers and from one generation to the next. This description of culture is not aimed at organizations but is very appropriate to them.

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There is the existence of different business customs that can help businessmen to succeed in foreign business negotiations. First, cultural imperatives; which states that customs must be recognized and accommodated. The authors of international marketing book place an example about how prolonged eye contact should be avoided in Japan because is considered offensive.

Second, cultural electives; it means that adaptation is helpful but not necessary. Japanese do not expect Westerners to bow and understand the ritual of bowing. However, if a westerner bows, it is appreciated by the Japanese businessmen due to the sensitivity showed toward their culture. Even though, one does not need to bow, it is appreciated and it can help one in building a trusting relationship.

On the other hand, according to the Web site Business-in-Asia, Japanese are considered to be methodical and to look up for every single detail in either social or business situation. They also tend to follow a path of procedures to accomplish things, so they are less likely to modified established rules. This can be due to the fact that Japan follows the code law system.

Another important characteristic in this country is punctuality as well as the business card. Business cards should be printed in a particular way, which is Japanese on one side and English on the reverse of the card.

According to Edward Hall, it exist two time systems the monochronic time and the polychronic time. Hall explains that Americans follow the m-time concept because they hold to schedules. This is contrary to the p-time that focuses more in the completion of human transaction. Japanese businessmen are considered to follow a mix of both times, because they believe on punctuality to schedule meetings (m-time), but also they stay as long as is necessary to be able for them to build a relationship of trust (p-time).

Adaptation to the other’s cultural expectations, can cause others, as the other participants will not be certain how to read particular acts, which can be either attempts to do things in the other culture’s way, or patterns of the speaker’s own cultural frame of reference. The best solution can be to make it clear which practices are being used when any instants of misunderstanding occur. Overall, however, evading of problems in cross-cultural communication can be best attained by increased awareness of the general differences in language and discourse use between cultures, and by acquaintance of likely sites of complexity.

Culturally determined paralinguistic features of communication, such as the smile, the gulped sibilant saaa, and the forced exhalation of breath, cannot be totally controlled in cross-cultural contexts. The Japanese executive cannot turn from domestic bargaining to global meetings and always remember that silence or indefinite euphemisms may be pessimistically interpreted by the other side. Similarly, the U.S. executive cannot erase the range of euphemistic and potentially misleading idioms from the lexicon of negotiation.

In case of IHOP, ‘Haragei’ would be the best strategy as it is used in communicating by the Japanese. Americans, though able to use similar strategies of their own, do not name them as the Japanese do. Haragei can be explained as a technique for solving a problem through negotiation between two inpiduals without the use of direct words. One party does not pulge to the other party what is in his hara (guts or gut feeling), but he distinctly and effectively communicates purpose, desire, or intent through haragei.

Psychology, perception, and knowledge of the other party’s personality, background, and other personal matters are necessary. Only people with plenty of experience and cool nerves can make it thrive. However, much communication between Japanese in high positions is through haragei (Mitsubishi 1983a, pp. 58-60).

Haragei is made probable by the vertical relationships, the need for harmony, and the homogeneity of the Japanese people. This hierarchical society has initiated the phrase, ishin-denshin, “What the mind thinks, the heart transmits.” The several formalities, conventions, and common standards developed in a society that gives precedence to harmonious relations make it easy to understand what goes on in the mind of the other person. Therefore, to the Westerner, the Japanese sometimes seem to have telepathic powers because, so often, communication among Japanese is attained without the use of words (Mitsubishi 1983a, pp. 68-70).


  • Mitsubishi Corp. 1983a. Japanese Business Glossary. Tokyo: Tokyokeizaishinposha.
  • Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary (1980)
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