Japan: The Sumo-Way Of Negotiating

“Difference is a concept you must own, deepen and further put into practice.” (H. Lefèbvre)

In export business, success depends, among others, on the ability of managers to understand and manage differences of culture and society. Understand means, above all, to be able to put oneself in someone else’s place and to be tolerant. In Asia, in Japan, long-term relationships and group spirit are perceived differently. Insecurity comes from the fact that all the facts are not known to the manager, hence there is a need for export specialists.

In Japan, the obstacles to the conclusion of a business are mainly of two types:

  1. The dynamism and sophistication of a highly competitive market, explaining the need to offer a range of quality products, adapted to consumer needs, innovative and competitive in price
  2. Socio-cultural barriers, present at the negotiation stage

An international negotiation has four characteristics:

  1. Its duration: in Japan, decision making is slow, but its execution is fast, the company wishing to know in depth the potential partner
  2. Its fragility: the interpretation of an agreement may be different depending on the socio-cultural value system or the partner may simply not be in good faith
  3. The complexity of the issues dealt with
  4. The risks: many elements not being known or controllable

The country of the Rising Sun is a country with strong cultural context: the Japanese retain a wealth of information on people and maintain, through an extensive network of friends, colleagues, customers, suppliers, close personal relationships. The ideal communication is indirect, non-verbal and emotional.

During a mission in Japan, the export manager will be hosted by a group of negotiators, often prepared and well organized. Group work will be done according to several principles:

  1. Identify the problem rather than who to blame, the objective is not to punish, but to solve together all the problems and overcome obstacles.
  2. Not rest on one’s laurels: constantly question oneself (“kaizen” or continuous improvement process) and progress step by step carrying out slight changes; markets changing quickly, the Japanese have learned to continuously improve their product lines.
  3. Take collective decisions, involving and committing all team members. Fully briefed, members will be more able to enforce the decision later. With the aim of a good collaboration, the Japanese have also at heart to integrate all members in their group, in order to bring order and serenity.
  4. Remain specialized: gradually improve what is ongoing, rather than doing several things at a time. Decisions on diversification will therefore be slow.

The Japanese negotiator generally dislikes arguments. He strives to avoid conflicts for the sake of harmony. His strength is in the group cohesion and he prefers a balanced agreement that lasts in the long-term. In Japan, the concept of silence has another meaning: it is either a sign of consideration/reflection, either the expression of discomfort or even of a disagreement.

Guest post by Zintro expert Philippe Huysveld

Zintro, Inc

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