Negotiating with the Japanese

In a previous article I talked about general business etiquette. In this short article, I am going to focus on negotiations with the Japanese. Here are six key points to keep in mind:

1. Personal relationships are very important. Unlike some countries in the west, e.g. USA, the Japanese do not base their business relationships around legal contracts to the same extent. Instead, the Japanese prefer to connect personally with their counterparts and to form a certain level of trust. So do not try to push for quick decisions based on long, detailed contracts.

Give it time, and connect with your partners on a personal level. Have neutral conversation topics ready, such as family, art, sports, etc. Face to face meetings are highly valued. If you are invited to socialise do accept. The Japanese use after-hours socialisation as a way to bond in the business world.

2. Decisions take time. Apart from the issues mentioned in point 1, the Japanese are also very long-term oriented, they like to avoid uncertainty at all costs, and they like building consensus. All of these aspects take time. Consensus building and long term orientation both require more time for discussion and reflection, while uncertainty avoidance requires planning, studies, surveys, etc. So be patient.

3. Do not be confrontational. In Japan confrontational behaviour and debating will generally not be looked upon favourably. Instead, talk to your hosts and highlight the benefits of what you are suggesting. Be patient and polite – the Japanese value these qualities highly. Also, do not be afraid of silence as the Japanese use silence frequently to consider things, so do not feel the need to fill it with noise.

4. Expect that the Japanese will probably be very non-confrontational. This means that they will probably not reject you directly. The word “yes” in Japan often means “I hear what you are saying”, not “I agree”. The business world is littered with examples of misunderstandings based on this simple fact.

5. Understand the concept of “saving face”. Do not put someone in the position where they lose face. The Japanese may avoid rejecting your proposal outright so as not to lose face, so do not force them to do so. Similarly, do not openly criticise or reject a proposal on their part.

6. Remember that the Japanese work environment is very collective but hierarchical. Do not single people out as it may cause loss of face. If you have any issues with an individual, it is best to discuss them in private rather than bring it up in front of everybody.

However, be aware of the general hierarchy and of the key decision makers are in your negotiations.

This should give you a good starting point towards understanding how to negotiate with the Japanese. Make sure to check back later for more articles on Japanese culture.

Sources

A Study on Japanese Culture and Styles of Business Negotiation, http://www.kwintessential.co.uk/resources/global-etiquette/japan-country-profiles.html, accessed November 2012

Caroll, S. & Naish, K. (2008), ”Business Japanese Culture Book”, McGraw Hill Companies Inc.

Sorrels, K., (1998) “On The Past and Future of Intercultural Relations Study Gifts of Wisdom:
An Interview with Dr. Edward T. Hall “, accessed 10 February 2013 from: http://people.umass.edu/~leda/comm494r/The%20Edge%20Interview%20Hall.htm

Sullivan, T. (2011) “When Cultures Collide: Low-Context Versus High Context”, Accessed 10 February 2013 from: http://japaninsight.wordpress.com/2011/08/30/when-cultures-collide-low-context-versus-high-context/

The Cultural Values of Japan, http://www.howto.co.uk/abroad/japanese-people/the_cultural_values_of_japan/, accessed November 2012

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