Posted: November 8th, 2023
CROSS-CULTURAL NEGOTIATIONS: A COMPARATIVE ASSESSMENT OF THE UNITED STATES AND JAPAN
April 5, 22
Globalization has increased the frequency of cross-cultural interaction in the workplace, especially within multinational organizations. Employees at a multinational company must be cognizant of their colleagues’ culture and the cross-cultural differences that typically emerge. Cross-cultural differences manifest themselves in various ways, including during work-place negotiations. American and Japanese cultures are different in many aspects, that can lead to cross-cultural differences during negotiations. For instance, Americans might find Japanese business partners strict and very formal during negotiations. On the other hand, the Japanese might find Americans to be too casual during negotiations. Accordingly, both business partners need to learn the others’ cultural mannerisms and values. Hofstede’s cultural dimensions and the Cultural Convergence Theory underscore the key cultural differences and similarities between Japan and U.S.A to foster effective negotiations and dispute resolution in the workplace. When working with Americans and the Japanese, minor cross-cultural conflicts are permissible, but major misunderstandings and a failure to accommodate key cultural values can disrupt workplace negotiations. Consequently, it is prudent to examine and compare cross-cultural negotiation styles between the Japanese and American Culture due to the increasing cultural convergence caused by globalization.
The cultural values of Japan and the United States related to power distance are becoming more similar. According to Hofstede’s model analysis (2022), Japan is near the global average in power distance. The score highlights that the Japanese citizen is beginning to question and criticize those in power. For instance, since the onset of the millennium, the country has had fourteen prime ministers. From 1980 to 2000, the country only had nine prime ministers. Recent victories by the Democratic Party signify a reduction in power distance. Hofstede’s IBM survey gave the U.S. a score of 40 and Japan a score of 50 (Bergiel et al. 2012, p. 70). The liberal American constantly pursues accountability in leadership.
Individualism versus Collectivism
Japan was more collectivist towards the end of the 20th century, while the U.S. is historically an individualistic republic. A major factor behind Japan’s collectivist approach is the country’s ability to provide full employment to everyone (Ghauri et al. 2020, p. 47). However, years of bloated management systems in top companies, such as Toyota, are straining the employer-employee relationship. The U.S. is also moving from the liberal ‘self-made’ image toward social security and welfare (Bergiel et al. 2012, p. 72). Moreover, contemporary Americans prefer working in teams and groups.
Masculinity versus Femininity
Japan continues to be one of the most masculine communities in the world. The country ranked no. 1 in Hofstede’s analysis of IBM. However, this trend is slowly changing. In 1986, Japan passed the equal employment bill, removing barriers for women in the corporate workplace (Bergiel et al. 2012, p. 70). It is becoming more common for men and women to engage in the same tasks in Japan and the U.S.A. Americans experienced the cultural shift earlier than Japan. The resultant hypothesis for the dimension is both cultures are becoming more feminine.
The Japanese tend to avoid uncertainty more than Americans. Historically, U.S. entrepreneurs leverage risk for bigger gains. During the gold rush, such business acumen was highly evident (Viswat & Kobayashi, 2012). Japan might need to adopt risk-taking with more and more manufacturing jobs moving to other countries. Limited job opportunities are an economic factor that affects a culture’s tolerance for uncertainty. America will become more risk-averse in the coming years, while Japan will become more risk-seeking.
While Japan is traditionally a long-term oriented republic, certain economic and political factors might cause it to become more short-term. One key reason is the increasing size of the ageing population (Bergiel et al. 2012, p. 73). Japan’s workforce has been declining for nearly two decades. The United States is historically a short-term oriented society, as highlighted in its shorter presidential term. However, following the 2008 recession, it has become more acceptable to implement conservative long-term plans. Applying the Cultural Convergence Theory highlights that Japan will adopt a lower long-term orientation while the U.S will adopt a higher long-term orientation.
Indulgence versus Restraints
The American culture does not frown on overspending compared to the Japanese. Americans are known for their lavish lifestyles, with success measured by one’s number of luxury cars and houses. Contrastingly, the Japanese are known for saving (Viswat & Kobayashi, 2012). Japan’s culture will score lower in Hofstede’s indulgence dimension, while Americans are bound to show less restraint.
Monumentalism versus Flexhumity
Japan is a more flex-humble society compared to America. The Japanese associate success and growth with external factors and failure with innate elements. According to Bergiel et al. (2012, p. 74), recent developments outline Japan still embraces this flex-humble attribute. Only large multinational firms, such as Toyota and Sony, have accepted outside leaders in response to growing competition. In the U.S., success is associated with talent and persistence, while failure results from errors and bad luck (Viswat & Kobayashi, 2012). The trend implies that people in the U.S. overestimate their distinctiveness. Therefore, the country should score higher for Monumentalism.
Differences in uncertainty avoidance might result in decision-making issues between the Japanese and Americans. According to Morgan (2015), the Japanese take extra time before making a decision, while Americans tend to make prompt decisions. Americans believe delays in decision making affects productivity. The decision making process is also another potential source of conflict. Individualism in the American culture prompts managers to make authoritative decisions without consulting their subordinates. In contrast, the collectivist Japanese manager will typically adopt a democratic decision-making process that involves the team before making the final decision.
Americans and the Japanese have a different understanding of the purpose and process in a meeting. The American focus on individualism and hierarchy means that people allowed in a meeting are only the ones with authority and expertise on the topic (Lituchy 2014, p. 4). Meetings only entail individuals directly responsible for a project. Contrastingly, the Japanese prefer having every team member present, including junior team members. The approach contributes to Japan’s longer decision-making process. Therefore, the differences in purpose and approach is bound to result in confusion during multicultural meetings (Lituchy 2014, p. 4). Americans want to discuss and debate project proposals during the actual meeting, including the airing of different opinions. The Japanese engage in out-of-team conversations and reach a consensus before the actual meeting. For the Japanese, the goal of a meeting is to ensure everybody is in agreement with a proposed project.
Individualism among Americans and collectivism among the Japanese leads to different leadership ideas and styles. According to Stephan and Pathak (2016, p. 512), making quick, solid decisions demonstrates an individual is a strong leader in the U.S.A. As a result, businesses prefer leaders that are action-oriented and charismatic. In contrast, the Japanese embody different leadership qualities where wisdom and humility [kA3] are the main attributes of a respected leader (Stephan & Pathak 2016, p. 512). Accordingly,
Solutions to Cultural Issues in the Workplace
Japanese-American teams have to sit down and reach a consensus about decision-making and leadership styles. According to Kobayashi et al. (2020), multicultural teams can avoid cultural conflicts by initially assessing the varying expectations and using the information to design the appropriate courses of action. Additionally, the team leader should speak to each member individually to discuss their opinions and feelings regarding existing leadership and decision-making. If the team is operating from Japan, American team members must understand the leadership and decision making approaches prevalent in the country. Likewise, if the team is operating from the United States, Japanese team members should learn to accommodate American culture leadership styles.
The Japanese and Americans should conduct pre-meeting discussions to reach a consensus about the topics at hand before the actual meeting takes place. Thompson (2012, p. 273) outlines that the problem in multicultural teams is the tendency to exclude others in pre-discussions, resulting in a state of unpreparedness from members belonging to particular cultures. For instance, during a meeting, Americans can be confused why the Japanese already have their minds made up before debating a proposed project. Informal discussions out-of-meetings can facilitate the establishment of team cohesion. The key recommendation is to have Japanese team members exchange opinions with their American counterparts more frequently. The two should increase the rate of out-of-meeting discussions. The approach also calls for Americans to seek out the Japanese.[kA4] The Americans can use ice-breakers such as “how are you liking life in the States” to initiate conversations with their Japanese counterparts during coffee breaks. Creating informal communication is a good way to address the meeting gap.
Americans should also slow down the pace of decision-making to make it easier for their Japanese counterparts to participate in the process. In their analysis of virtual meetings involving multicultural teams, Smith and Ruiz (2020, p. 13) found that by making silent spaces last longer, team members increased their participation. A slow pace in the decision-making process allows members to contribute to the conversation. On the other hand, the Japanese should not hesitate to stop a debate to request a recap. Moreover, admitting that one is confused is not a sign of weakness (Smith & Ruiz 2020, p. 13). Therefore, the Japanese should feel comfortable enough to ask about the reasons behind a decision.
Effective cross-cultural negotiation is a criterion for success in the globalized business environment. Regrettably, cross-cultural negotiations tend to be less effective compared to intracultural negotiations. A large chunk of the problem stems from a lack of understanding of cultural differences. Japan and the United States have different cultural values that affect cross-cultural negotiations and lead to managerial issues. Hofstede’s model underscores the differences between American and Japanese cultures. Key challenges revolve around leadership ideals and the decision-making process. In sum, it is prudent for both Japanese and American business counterparts to understand and accommodate each other’s’ cultural differences during negotiations and in management practices.
Top of Form
Bergiel, E., Bergiel, B. & Upson, J., 2012. Revisiting Hofstede’s dimensions: Examining the cultural convergence of the United States and Japan. American Journal of Management, 12(1): pp. 69-80.
Ghauri, P., Ursula, F. & Rammal, H., 2020. International business negotiations: Theory and practice. Massachusetts: Edward Elgar Publishing.
Hofstede, G., n.d. Country comparison [online]. Hofstede Insights. Available at https://www.hofstede-insights.com/country-comparison/
Kobayashi, Y., Watanabe, K., Otsuka, Y., Eguchi, H., Kawakami, N. & Imamura, K., 2020. Servant leadership in Japan: A validation study of the Japanese version of the servant leadership survey (SLS-J). Frontiers in Psychology, 11(171). https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2020.01711
Lituchy, T., 2014. International negotiations: A focus on Northeast Asia. International Studies of Management and Organization, 43(4): pp. 3-5.
Morgan. N., 2015. Communication between Japanese and Americans in the workplace. LinkedIn. Available at https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/communication-between-japanese-americans-workplace-part-nozomi-morgan-6051751239979384832
Stephan, U. & Pathak, S., 2016. Beyond cultural values? Cultural leadership ideals and entrepreneurship. Journal of Business Venturing, 31(5): pp. 505-523.
Thompson, L. 2012. Mind and heart of the negotiator. New York: Pearson.
Viswat, L. & Kobayashi, J., 2012. Negotiation styles: Similarities and differences between American and Japanese university students. Journal of Intercultural Communication, 28. https://immi.se/intercultural/nr28/viswat.htm
Bottom of Form
[kA1]Focus on the key cultural differences
[kA2]Integrate how the key cultural differences lead to management issues.
[kA3]Choose better words to put across your point
I have searched Stephen’s article and I did not see those two leadership ideals.
[kA4]Read the comment below then rewrite this section. It all sounds off. I know what you are trying to say, but you have not put the point across well enough.
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