Cultural Differences and Negotiation

Chosen Country: Japan

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Japanese culture is full of many traditional values. For instance, family is tremendously important to the Japanese and traditional gender roles are commonly upheld (Saito et al., 2004). For example, the father is generally the breadwinner and the mother is often a full-time homemaker who takes care of the children (Heapy, 2012). Japanese society is extremely structured and orbits around a conception of hierarchy and people’s roles; it’s not uncommon for people to be addressed in terms of the position they hold (Heapy, 2012). The culture values things like duty, loyalty, and obligation; in fact the Japanese view the biggest obligation as the one that one carries towards one’s parents (Heapy, 2012).

Even those who are unfamiliar with Japanese culture are aware of the fact that the Japanese bow instead of shaking hands. Bowing in Japanese culture is a sign of respect; showing respect to other people is an important aspect of the culture and bowing is one way to convey this (Heapy, 2012). However, what a lot of people don’t know is that bowing can covey not only respect, but a range of messages from congratulations to an apology.

Currently the assumptions that I have about this country is that while it’s a very modern and cutting edge place in certain respects, it’s still steeped in antiquity in many other ways. While some might refer to some of the core values of the country as “traditional” other people might label them as being old-fashioned or biased. It still remains unclear to many people how well respected female Japanese doctors, CEOs, and lawyers actually are; for example, would a female Japanese business woman be given as much respect sitting around a as her male counterparts or not. For that matter, it’s still unclear if an always receives the same amount of respect as her male counterparts when doing business in Japan. These concerns or elements which lack clarity are indeed natural. A recent study asserted that, “Japanese gender roles are usually constructed according to tradition and men are assumed to possess a traditional masculine identity” (Chan & Hiyashi, 2010). Ultimately the article found that as far as with the male participants in their study, they generally adhered to traditional gender roles, with a strong orientation towards, success, power and competition (Chan & Hiyashi, 2010). Thus, my assumptions have been shaped by what I’ve seen and read about the country, as well as the research that has been conducted on it.

As someone who originates from the Ivory Coast, there is actually a strong amount of overlap between our two cultures. One very clear and immediate example of that is the high value that these two countries place on the family. Family is central to everyday life and needs to be valued, protected and respected; both Japan and the Ivory Coast subscribe to this belief. However, in my country of origin, there’s a greater emphasis on the extended family. Also, I feel like my culture places a stronger emphasis on enjoying life and taking one’s time, whereas Japanese culture places a stronger emphasis on achievement, productivity, and punctuality. Thus, in order to negotiate successfully with someone from Japan, I would need to adapt in such a way that I respect their need for punctuality and getting things done quickly and efficiently. I need to prepare myself for the fact that they might conduct work with a greater sense of urgency.

Furthermore, during the negotiation, I will need to learn how to engage in a more formal and regimented business style. When conducting business on the Ivory Coast, it’s not uncommon for all parties to smile at one another or to be expected to not to make a decision right away. If I need more time to think things over regarding the transaction, I will need to be able to ask for it quietly and respectfully.

From everything I’ve read about engaging in negotiation with the Japanese, it’s important to generally embrace and follow the Japanese method of negotiation, even though their used to dealing with other cultures (Katz, 2008). The first thing I will do is work to establish trust and credibility with my negotiators before even approaching the subject of negotiation (Katz, 2008). This is extremely different from what I’m used to, as most business people that I’ve dealt with don’t have the time or inclination to spend time with one another in the chance of building up a rapport.

Since the Japanese like to think in the long-term approach and like to build relationships for businesses that will last a long period of time, they prefer to engage in a slow approach: this means the initial negotiation meeting might be small (Katz, 2008). This is something to expect and is completely normal: it should not be discouraging. It will be something, however, that I’ll have to brief my associates about.

Another aspect that I’ll need to prepare for and brief my team for is the Japanese concept of face. “Reputation and social standing strongly depend on a person’s ability to control emotions and preserve group harmony. The importance of diplomatic restraint and tact cannot be overestimated. Always keep your cool and never lose your composure. Causing embarrassment to another person may cause a loss of face for all parties involved and can be disastrous for business negotiations” (Katz, 2008). While, I’m good at not having my thoughts or emotions show up on my face during business proceedings, not all of my colleagues are and we will need to discuss how to better control these things.

Essentially, my approach to a negotiation with the Japanese will have to be slower, much more gradual and more paced towards a relaxed setting. Aspects of tradition and formal behavior will have to be upheld. Moreover, I’ll have to put in a stronger effort at establishing trust.


Chan, R., & Hayashi, K. (2010). Gender Roles and Help-Seeking Behaviour. Journal of Social Work, 243-262.

Heapy, T. (2012). Japanese Culture. Chicago: Capstone Global.

Katz, L. (2008). Negotiating International Business – Japan. Retrieved from http://www.globalnegotiationresources..pdf

Saito, S. et al., (2004). Translatability of Family Concepts into the Japanese Culture. Family Process, 239-257.