What happened in the Japanese-American negotiation? A case study on the benefits of intercultural training

Wed, 01/16/2019 - 20:15

If you want to negotiate with me then do it my way!

A workshop focusing on cultural differences allows you to develop sensitivity towards people of different cultural backgrounds, reduce conflict and achieve common goals despite different perspectives. And, if you also have to communicate using another language, a workshop gives you the experience and skills to reframe your communication more suitably for your foreign partners.  

Workshops based on case studies offer a safe yet enlightening environment. You can take risks that normally aren’t allowed in real life, test situations out, then analyse behavior to understand your experience within a theoretical framework. This way there are no risks to customer relationships.

American-Japanese negotiations

A large life sciences company that was experiencing communication difficulties when negotiating with American and Japanese partners asked us to design a workshop. The Americans and Japanese often work together in joint ventures with foreign companies because such synergies enable competitive advantages that would otherwise be difficult to achieve. However, joint ventures, especially those crossing cultural boundaries, often lead to misunderstandings and organizational conflict.

Our case study took some elements from the client’s real life situation. The Japanese and the American trainers each briefed their teams to act appropriately in the negotiation. Both teams had to communicate in English as their common language. As preparation they also sent each other emails to coordinate the meeting and agenda before they could hold the negotiation.

Feedback from the meeting

The meeting was held and both teams came out feeling really frustrated: “Did you see their CEO; he wasn’t interested in our proposal at all. He hardly said anything and he looked like he was going to sleep!” was a comment from the American team. “And, we didn’t even get a proper decision; they ignored the agenda and only made small talk or else they didn’t say anything.  How can we work together if we can’t even reach agreement?”

The Japanese team felt insulted from the minute they walked in the door – “We couldn’t believe it. Those Americans were so rude and didn’t treat our CEO with the proper respect; they even used his first name. They didn’t stop talking and were only interested in the contract. We were shocked when one of them got loud and criticized our way of working. We’re not sure they are the right partner for us.”

Different cultures, different expectations

Our trainers were delighted to review what had gone on in the meeting, because what could go wrong did.  Both cultures have different approaches to negotiations and concepts of time. They value protocol and ceremony in other ways. Americans can make decisions very quickly on an individual basis. The Japanese are more collectivist and need to involve their whole team, which needs patience.

During the analysis phase the teams commented: “Wow, no wonder they were angry. We didn’t realize that we had insulted them at all and not that often. And our English must have made it even worse. No wonder we weren’t getting anywhere – we simply negotiated in our normal way!”

The main takeaways

A key question to getting learning transfer is to ask: “What would we change next time and how should we communicate?” The final session involved reversing the teams’ roles and practicing what they had learnt in a second, shorter meeting, namely, identify cultural differences and build relationships first - building trust is an essential component in doing global business. Knowing how to do this is critical.

So, if you want to help your teams communicate with their global partners just give us a call. A workshop based on a cross-cultural case study is a very effective way of gaining experience and helping your teams to success.

Please find more information on intercultural training at: www.language-consulting.com/training/cross-cultural-training

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