Journal of Intercultural Communication, ISSN 1404-1634, issue 40, March 2016.
This paper deals with negotiation situations in which Japanese and American university students encounter difficulties, and compares and contrasts negotiation strategies employed by the two parties to resolve those problems. A preliminary survey and a new questionnaire extracted from the preliminary survey results were organized and distributed to both Japanese and American university students. The results based on a combination of qualitative and quantitative analyses have identified many cultural differences and some common characteristics. While keeping cultural characteristics in mind, we need to view negotiation situations from multi-dimensional perspectives by taking contextual factors such as verbal agreements, life experiences and personal relationships into consideration. This paper explores the use of better negotiation strategies in intercultural interactions.
Keywords: negotiation strategies, Japanese and American university students, difficult negotiation situations, cultural differences, contextual factors
Negotiation is defined as “a process in which parties are trying to find a mutually acceptable solution to an incident with a clash of interests.” (Sakuma, 2007, p.13). In Japan where negotiation has been traditionally identified with tactics and plots and negatively regarded, little systematic research on negotiation has been conducted until recently (Nakashima, 2000; Tamura, Isshiki & Sumida, 2010). Negotiators have been expected to learn through experience; in other words, just by engaging in negotiations. In the United States, on the other hand, various studies on negotiation have been conducted (Fisher, Ury & Patton, 1991; Harvard Business School Press 2004; Lewicki, Sauders & Barry 2006; Malhotra & Bazerman, 2007). The recent focus of research on negotiation has shifted from competitive, win-lose strategies to collaborative, win-win strategies (Harvard Business School Press, 2004; Lewicki, Sauders & Barry, 2006).
With the advancement of globalization, negotiation among people from different cultures has become an urgent issue out of necessity. A number of research studies on negotiation between Japanese and Americans have been conducted. For instance, Gelfand, Nishii, Holcombe, Dyer, Ohbushi, and Fukuno (2001) found that the Japanese tend to perceive themselves as making more concessions and compromises than Americans. Wade-Benzoni, Okumura, Brett, Moore, Tenbrunsel, and Bazerman, (2002) showed that Japanese frequently put forth more cooperative solutions in negotiations than do their American counterparts. Also, Adair, Okumura and Brett (2001) pointed out that both Japanese and Americans need to communicate by using or at least acknowledging the other party’s culturally preferred way of direct or indirect communication in order to succeed in negotiation. Moreover, Viswat and Kobayashi (2012) identified similarities and differences in negotiation styles between Japanese university students and students in the United States in two contexts; that is, negotiations with a family member or a friend and business negotiations. The results indicated that Americans and Japanese need to acquire different abilities in order to foster mutually beneficial relationships. In negotiations with Japanese it is essential for Americans to acquire the following abilities: to listen attentively to what the other person says, and display a willingness to compromise by controlling emotions. Likewise, for Japanese to negotiate successfully with Americans, the following abilities are indispensable: to utilize logic and reasoning, and help others recognize points of disagreement by expressing their opinions clearly.
When negotiations are narrowed down to situations in which university students encounter difficulties, what cultural differences in negotiation strategies are identified between Japanese and Americans? The purpose of this paper is to identify cultural differences and contextual factors in negotiation strategies that are likely to be employed by Japanese and American university students, and explore better negotiation strategies in intercultural interactions.
For the above purpose, 70 Japanese and 68 American university students were surveyed. Following an explanation that their responses would be treated confidentially, students were asked to describe specific situations where they had problems negotiating with a family member or a friend as well as difficulties encountered when negotiating in a business context such as at work or at a store (See Appendix 1). Based on the questionnaire results, 5 typical problems were extracted in each of the two contexts mentioned (family setting and work setting), and a new questionnaire was organized by listing several possible negotiation options gleaned from the responses that had been given in the first survey.
Following the same explanation regarding confidentiality, a new group made up of 84 Japanese university students (33 males, 51 females) and 55 American university students (28 males, 27 females) was asked to rate the degree to which they would be likely to use a specific negotiation option. A 5-point Likert scale was used with 1 = very likely to 5 = very unlikely. If they indicated that they were unlikely to negotiate in a given situation, they were asked to provide reasons, and if they had an alternative strategy in mind, they were asked to describe the strategy (See Appendix 2, Sample Questionnaire). The average age of the Japanese students was 19 while that of the American counterparts was 25. While there is some age difference because of several non-traditional students in the American university, both universities were of comparable size and status, and the respondents had similar majors in the field of liberal arts. In order to elicit accurate responses, the surveys were conducted in English for Americans, and in Japanese for Japanese. A back-translation was done to ensure that the meaning of the questions was the same in both languages.
The results were analyzed using a combination of the KJ method, Mann-Whitney U-Test and Chi-Square Test in order to increase credibility and reliability. The KJ method developed by Kawakita Jiro (1967, 1970) provides a means for organizing qualitative data by combining separate concepts through card-making, grouping, naming and chart-making. It aims to create factors by synthesizing various data or ideas. Mann-Whitney U-Test is a non-parametric alternative to the more common 2-sample t-test. Whereas the t-test compares the averages between two groups, the Mann-Whitney U-Test compares the medians between two groups. All p-values were adjusted using the Bonferroni correction method in order to limit the possibility of making a false positive. The chi-square (I) test was used to determine whether there is a significant difference between the expected frequencies and the observed frequencies. After comparing the mean scores between the Japanese and American students, it can be concluded that when a p-value of < .05 results, the median ranking for a particular question is either higher or lower for one group than for the other.
After the analyses, a variety of cultural differences and contextual factors were identified in a number of situations; that is, negotiations with a family member or a friend and negotiations at work or at a store.
Distinct differences were identified between Japanese and Americans in a situation where the father wanted to change jobs. The specific situation was: Your father told you that he wanted to change jobs, and you would have to move out of the condominium. You would like to ask your father not to change jobs. Japanese were likely to negotiate in some way or another while more Americans responded that they would not negotiate (p < .05) with reasons such as “It’s his life. If he wanted to change jobs, I would support him;” and “I will not stand in front of his goals. He has not stood in front of mine.”
Representative strategies employed by Japanese were to appeal with reference to one’s position as a family member such as “I wish I could support your changing jobs, but I hope that you’ll consider our family and how this change will affect all of us” and to appeal with concern for the future such as “If things don’t work out as planned after you change jobs, what will you do?” Americans who chose to negotiate were more likely than Japanese to appeal by asking for a compromise such as “Can you look for a good job before you leave your current job?”(p < .05)
A situation where the results were vastly different from what had been expected was when a friend didn’t pay back the money she had borrowed. The detailed situation was: A friend didn’t pay back $20 you had lent although you politely asked her to pay it back several times. You demanded that she pay it back by a certain date, but she got mad and told you that she thought you had given her the money. There was no statistically significant difference between the two groups in the strategies they chose to use. However there was a tendency for Japanese respondents who still wanted to ask for reimbursement, to appeal with a reminder such as “You asked me to lend the money, didn’t you?” In contrast, there was a tendency for more Americans than Japanese respondents to appeal by expressing regret for the misunderstanding such as “It’s too bad I used words that might have been misinterpreted, but I really need for you to repay the money.” This American tendency of softening the tone so as to avoid a conflict was also observed in that more Americans chose to appeal with a sense of urgency such as “This month I’m really short of money, so I need you to repay the money I lent you.”
In the same situation, quite a few Japanese and Americans commented that they would not negotiate with determination “I learned a lesson. I’ll never lend her money again;” and “This could prove to be a domino effect, getting worse. I would not lend again.”
When a roommate did not help to clean shared living space, a variety of strategies were selected by both parties. The specific example was: Although at first you hinted to your roommate that the place was getting messy, it had no effect. You would like to get his cooperation in cleaning up the room. The results show that Americans were more likely than Japanese to appeal with a suggestion to share housework such as “Let’s make up a list of what has to be done and then each of us will choose some tasks to complete.” (p < .05) On the other hand, Japanese tended to appeal with a compromise such as “Let’s clean up the room together from now.” It is often mentioned that Japanese like the strategy of compromise (Gelfnad, Nishii, Holcombe, Dyer, Ohbuchi & Fukuno, 2001; Nakayama, 2001) and this tendency was observed in relationships with friends when the other person neglected to fulfill responsibilities.
However, many people from both groups replied that they would also choose to appeal to logic such as “Remember that this room is shared by the two of us and please keep the room as clean as possible.” On the other hand, the choices of appealing with reference to the merits of having a clean room such as “If we clean the room more often, we can lead a more comfortable life” and appealing with reference to visitors of higher status such as “My parents are planning to visit me next week, so if we don’t get this place cleaned up, I’ll get into trouble” were selected and rejected by almost an equal number of respondents. There was no fixed negotiation strategy considered effective by either party. In this context, people seem to have no other choice but to find an effective strategy depending on the context through a process of trial and error.
Some conspicuous differences were identified in negotiations over an unfair performance review. Japanese were more likely than Americans not to negotiate (p < .05) with reasons such as: “If my boss reviewed my work that way, I would have no other choice but to accept it;” and “Questioning my boss’s review is out of the question.” Japanese who chose to negotiate often replied that they would use indirect expressions in a non-confrontational manner like “I feel I have done more than this review. Would you mind reconsidering this?” and “I feel I have done my best, but did I make a serious mistake? I don’t remember, though.”
On the other hand, Americans were more likely than Japanese to choose two strategies: to appeal with a request for constructive criticism by saying something like “Would you point out exactly what was wrong so that I can improve my performance?” and to appeal with a request for a second opinion from an expert. (p < .05) The former position was frequently indicated with counter-arguments in written free responses like “I have several compliments on my work history that didn’t have any positive effect on my report. Would you redo my review?;” and “I feel that this was an unfair review. I believe that I was doing good in these areas.” The latter attitude was clearly denoted in written free responses such as “Was this review written by just one person? If so, can I have another boss read this and get their opinion also on my performance?” and “I believe this review was unfair. I hope that you could seek a second source for opinion.”
A similar tendency was observed in negotiations over a raise/promotion. Although the choices did not show a statistically significant difference for the two groups, more Japanese chose not to negotiate than Americans with reasons like “The manager has the right to decide who deserves a raise;” and “I don’t want to give the manager an impression that I’m overly confident.” Japanese who chose to negotiate frequently replied that they would appeal with emphasis on gratitude such as “I’ve been working very hard. If you could give me a raise, I’d be really grateful.”
On the other hand,there was a tendency for Americans to choose to appeal with reference to specific achievements such as preparing a list of all the things they had accomplished on the job. (p < .10) A large number of Americans offered written free responses like “I would give my boss examples of what a hard and reliable worker I am with examples like how often I cover other people’s shifts and extra tasks completed in addition to my normal duties. I would use words like ‘extra’ and ‘deserve;’” and “I would stress my eagerness to work, how well I have been handling customers, quickness without sacrificing quality. If I got paid more, I’d feel more obligated to keep up with the good work and even push myself further.” They seemed to believe that the negotiations would have a better outcome if they mentioned as many specific achievements as possible.
Cultural differences were identified also in the way negotiations were carried out in two scenarios focusing on the boss’s way of proceeding with work. One specific situation was: When your boss sometimes had meetings for conveying his messages unilaterally to his subordinates, you wanted to suggest that a memo with the key points should be passed around instead of calling a meeting. While no options reached a statistically significant level, there was more of a tendency for Japanese to use the strategy of making a suggestion such as “How about passing around a memo by email outlining the key points?” On the other hand, Americans indicated more of a tendency to appeal with reference to time management such as by showing their boss how much time could have been saved at the last meeting if an in-house memo had been sent out in advance of the meeting.
While quite a few Japanese and Americans chose not to negotiate, the reasons that they offered differed considerably. The Japanese gave reasons such as “I don’t want to hurt my boss’s pride;” and “In-house newsletters may cause misunderstandings.” The Americans cited reasons such as “Newsletters are ineffective because nobody reads them;” and “While I would offer my suggestion, if the boss could offer any logic for the things, then it would be a dead issue.”
The other specific example over the boss’s way of proceeding with the work was: You thought that you should give an important customer a bigger discount in order to meet the needs of the customer. Although a level of statistical significance was not obtained, there was a tendency for Japanese respondents to choose a strategy with emphasis on the common objective of placing priority on providing service to their customers. On the other hand, Americans were more likely than Japanese to indicate that they would appeal with reference to future benefits.
As for negotiation at a store that advertised a markdown on goods, Japanese were more likely not to negotiate than Americans. (p < .05) The specific situation was: The tag on the piece of clothing you wished to buy had the original price. Japanese who chose to negotiate replied that they would appeal with reference to competition such as “I’ve seen the same item on sale in other stores.” The Japanese response may reflect the current price war situation in Japan where large-scale electrical appliance stores encourage their customers to report on lower prices offered by competitors.
American respondents were more likely than Japanese to rely on two strategies to resolve the problem: to appeal with logic such as “I’m not asking you to lower the price. I’m asking you to honor the price as it is marked;” and to appeal to a higher authority such as “I’d like to talk with your manager.” (p < .05) Regarding the latter strategy of appealing to a higher authority, although deemed universally effective (Oohashi, 2007), it isn’t commonly used by Japanese because it seems somewhat confrontational.
Japanese and Americans had some characteristics in common when negotiating with a friend. Common characteristics between Japanese and Americans were identified in situations where a friend asked to cover her shift in the workplace and a friend refused your request of borrowing his car. The former example was: When a friend asked you to cover her shift the next day because her grandfather was in critical condition. You wanted to ask her to find someone else because of an upcoming important exam. A negotiation strategy frequently employed by both Japanese and Americans was to appeal with a compromise such as “I have an important exam, so first try to find someone else. If you can’t find anyone else, I’ll cover your shift.” Also, quite a few Japanese and Americans replied that they would accept her request with reasons such as “I hope they would do the same for me” and “I would just help out a friend in need of help.” Even among Americans who value individualism and self (Hofstede, 1991; Triandis, 1995), an appeal with reference to one’s own self-interests was chosen only by a small number of people in this context.
The latter example was: When a friend refused your request of borrowing his car even with promise that you would put gas in the car, you would like to ask him again. In this situation, responses that they would choose not to negotiate were conspicuous among both parties. The reasons given were “I would respect his decision and not ask again;” and “I would find alternative transportation such as a bike and a taxi.” Those people who chose to negotiate replied that they would offer extra rewards such as buying additional gas. In this context, both Japanese and Americans considered a walk-off strategy or a strategy of “expanding the pie”; that is, increasing the available resources (Pruitt, 1994, p.488) to be effective.
As for the father changing jobs, Japanese were more likely to negotiate than Americans. While many Japanese replied that they would employ strategies to appeal with reference to one’s position as a family member and to appeal with concern for the future, Americans who chose to negotiate were more likely than Japanese to appeal by asking for a compromise. The difference in choices made by Japanese and Americans can be explained in terms of cultural values. In Japanese culture acceptance by one’s in-group is crucial (Nakayama, 1989; Nishiyama, 2000), and as a hierarchical society (Nakane, 1984; Samovar & Porter, 2001) the father’s role as breadwinner is recognized by all family members. In American culture, however, one’s freedom and sphere of influence are of paramount importance to one’s ego (Hofstede, 1991; Ting-Toomey, 2000), and children are encouraged to be independent very early in life. Also, as the United States is an egalitarian society, children are encouraged to offer their opinions freely (Samovar & Porter, 2001; Stewart & Bennett, 1991). From an American perspective, the Japanese may seem too dependent on the father. From a Japanese viewpoint, however, the Americans who do not negotiate with their father may seem too indifferent.
An alternative explanation can be made in terms of one’s attitude toward taking risks. In negotiations risk-taking can have a great impact on people involved as well as on the outcome. While American culture encourages people to take risks, Japanese culture values a more cautious approach by which people avoid taking risks (Oohashi, 2007). As a result, young people in the United States would be unlikely to discourage their father from taking a risk. If they have to negotiate with their father in this situation, they would be more likely to suggest a compromise. From an American perspective, the Japanese attitude may seem too cautious while from a Japanese viewpoint, the American attitude may seem too bold.
Regarding the demand for monetary reimbursement, Japanese tended to be more direct than Americans. It is often stated that Americans prefer to state directly their personal needs and reactions to the behaviors of others, and that Japanese are more indirect, considering the maintenance of social harmony to be of paramount importance (Lustig & Koester 2010; Samovar & Porter, 2001). However, the results turned out to be opposite. This difference may arise from the fact that verbal agreements are effective in Japanese culture, but not in American culture. Americans tend to rely on written contracts in business affairs (Fisher, 1994; Kinoshita, 2009), and this may also be true in certain interpersonal relationships. When negotiating with Americans over important issues, if Japanese don’t enter into written contracts, they may fail to have Americans implement the verbal agreements. In such a case, Americans may be considered unreliable by Japanese.
Another explanation for the difference in the responses selected may be due to age differences. The average age of the Japanese respondents was 19 while that of their American counterparts was 25. As people grow older, they may recognize that discussions about money matters often result in useless arguments. With age, they may also learn to pay more attention to word choices when conveying unfavorable messages about money to another person.
On the other hand, in situations such as where a friend was asked to cover a shift in the workplace or when a friend refused a request for the loan of his car, Japanese and Americans had some common reactions. When a friend was asked to cover a shift, if Japanese appealed with reference to their own self-interests such as “I’m afraid I can’t help you out because an upcoming exam is really important,” they may be regarded as selfish even by Americans who value individualism. Similarly, if a Japanese person persists in asking an American friend for the loan of his car, he may be considered as too pushy even though direct appeals are usually acceptable to Americans.
A variety of cultural differences were identified between Japanese and Americans. In negotiations over an unfair performance review, Japanese were more likely than Americans not to negotiate. Americans tended to choose to appeal with a request for constructive criticism and to appeal with a request for a second opinion. The difference in attitudes can be explained in terms of cultural values. In Japanese culture knowing one’s social status is vital and overt assertiveness should be avoided (Nakayama, 1989; Nishiyama, 2000) whereas in American culture confrontation using logical arguments is regarded as desirable (Hodgson, Sano, & Graham, 2008; McDaniel & Quasha, 2000) and the idea of consulting an expert is encouraged in the United States (Malhortra & Bazerman, 2007, p.188).
In negotiations over a raise/promotion again, more Japanese chose not to negotiate than Americans. On the other hand, Americans chose to appeal with reference to specific achievements. This difference reflects the Japanese cultural value that vertical relationships are respected (Hodgson, Sano & Graham, 2008; Hofstede 1980), and taking a humble attitude is required (Onoda, 2003; Nakayama, 1989), and American culture where competition and visible achievements are valued (Samovar & Porter, 2001; Stewart & Bennett, 1991).
In the above two situations, some strategies were regarded as effective in one culture, but not the other culture. Strategies with a request for advice without presenting individual achievements or counter-arguments were highly rated in Japanese culture. To Americans who value visible achievements, these strategies may seem weak because of the lack of objective evidence. On the other hand, strategies with reference to specific achievements and counter-arguments were considered effective by Americans. To Japanese, such attitudes may seem to be overly confident or impudent because their performance may still be perceived as immature from the boss’s viewpoint, as some Japanese pointed out in their written comments. A strategy of requesting a second opinion would make the situation worse because it would make the Japanese boss lose face and might end up damaging the relationship.
Similarly, in negotiations over the boss’s way of proceeding with work, the differences in responses reflect the cultural values of the respective countries. In Japanese culture people are expected to consider carefully the maintenance of social harmony when stating their opinions (Nakayama, 1989; Samovar & Porter, 2001). In American culture, verbal interactions between superiors and subordinates are an expected norm (McDaniel & Quasha, 2000; Ting-Toomey & Oetzel, 2001), and efficiency and productivity are valued (Lewicki, Saunders and Barry, 2006; Stewart & Benett, 1991). Also, Japanese culture values group benefits (Nishiyama, 2000; Hofstede & Bond, 1988) while American culture is characterized by an individual achievement orientation (Lustig & Koester, 2010; McDaniel & Quasha, 2000).
In the above situation, the Japanese strategy of offering a mere suggestion to the boss without any reason may be perceived as weak by Americans since they may not be able to comprehend the purpose of making that suggestion. On the other hand, the American strategy of showing the boss how much time could have been saved at the last meeting might be interpreted as face-threatening because it implies that the boss did a poor job.
As for negotiation at a store that advertised a markdown on goods, Japanese were more likely not to negotiate than Americans. Americans chose to appeal with logic and appeal to a higher authority. As the proverb “The squeaky wheel gets the grease” indicates, American culture encourages people to assert their own rights. Unless Japanese assert their own rights, they cannot earn benefits for themselves. On the other hand, Americans who are overly assertive, as seen from Japanese standards, may be kept at arm’s length.
The results of the surveys demonstrate that we need to view negotiation situations from multi-dimensional perspectives. While keeping cultural characteristics in mind, we also need to take contextual factors into consideration. Self-assertiveness is indeed encouraged in American culture, but whether self-assertiveness in negotiations is effective or not depends on the context. If people can’t assert their own rights at work or at a store, they will put themselves at a disadvantage. In some personal relationships however, a ‘walk-away’ strategy may be better, and helping a friend in need without considering one’s self-interests may be desirable for future relationships.
Also, it is true that Japanese people in general prefer indirect communication styles and most Americans prefer direct ways of communication, but when verbal agreements are involved, these cultural tendencies may not be followed. As people regardless of their cultural backgrounds grow older, they may recognize that money is often a sensitive topic, and as a result a discussion to reach a verbal agreement about money is pointless. Negotiations are always complex because of the many contextual factors involved, such as the validity of verbal agreements and life experiences.
The results also indicate that there are many strategies that aren’t shared by one of the two cultural members. For instance, in negotiations over a raise/promotion or an unfair performance review, strategies presenting objective evidence weren’t employed by many Japanese. Also, in the case of a negotiation at a store that advertised goods as having been marked down, appealing with logic and appealing to a higher authority were not commonly used by Japanese. Conversely, strategies of conducting negotiations while paying special attention to the other person’s face weren’t shared by Americans. We can increase our repertoire of negotiation strategies by considering alternatives to the ones we already employ. This will help people to become better negotiators in intercultural interactions.
Future research should be encouraged with people who have actually used the above new strategies in intercultural interactions. Researchers need to find out whether they have found the strategies effective or not. Research should also be conducted taking generational and gender differences into account because while the survey results imply that people change their negotiation strategies with age, the precise changes are not clear, and no marked gender differences were identified.
The incidents used in the surveys were collected from experiences that students had actually encountered, and therefore other students can easily relate to the situations and strategies. Specific examples of real-life situations make it easier for students to understand abstract principles of negotiation. In that sense, these surveys are considered meaningful for promoting intercultural interactions.
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We would like to convey our appreciation to participants who willingly shared their views in our questionnaires. We also would like to express our gratitude to the reviewers of the Journal of Intercultural Communication for offering us detailed and valuable suggestions on earlier drafts of our article.
We are conducting research focusing on negotiation strategies of Japanese and Americans. We would very much appreciate your answering these questions candidly. Thank you.
We are conducting a survey on similarities and differences in negotiation strategies between Americans and Japanese. Your answers will be treated confidentially, so we would appreciate your answering each question frankly. Thank you very much for your participation in this survey.
Gender: M F Age: __________
Your father tells you that he wants to change jobs. As a result, you won’t be able to maintain your present standard of living and will have to move out of the condominium in which you are currently living. You would like to ask your father not to change jobs.
Choose to negotiate or not: very likely 1 2 3 4 5 very unlikely
If you select “5” “4” or “3,” please explain briefly why you would select that number.
If you select “1” or “2,” please decide how likely you are to use each negotiation strategy.
Alternative strategy that you might use: ________________________________.
You went to a store in order to buy an item that was advertised as on sale. Unfortunately, the tag on the piece of clothing you wished to buy had the original price rather than the sales price. You argued that you would like the item for the sale price. Then, the clerk said it was impossible.
Choose to negotiate or not: very likely 1 2 3 4 5 very unlikely
If you select “5” “4” or “3,” please explain briefly why you would select that number
If you select “1” or “2,” please decide how likely you are to use each negotiation strategy.
Alternative strategy that you might use: ________________________________.
Junko Kobayashi is an associate professor at Kansai Gaidai University. She is the author of 12 English textbooks on intercultural communication.
Linda Viswat is a professor at Otemon Gakuin University where she teaches courses in intercultural communication. Her research has focused on sojourner adjustment, learning strategies of Japanese university students, motivation, and the development of a learning community.
Kansai Gaidai University
Otemon Gakuin University