SCHOOL OF COMMERCE
RESEARCH PAPER SERIES: 00-9
This exploratory study attempts to compare a number of the international business negotiation issues identified in the literature with the perceptions of Australian negotiation practitioners. The findings, although generally supportive of the literature, indicate that the complexity of the issues addressed is often not captured and, therefore, further investigation is warranted in a number of areas. Directions for further research to address apparent weaknesses in the literature are provided.
Many of the issues addressed in this research attempt to elicit culturally specific characteristics as they relate to international business negotiations. It is recognised that these characteristics are generalisations that are not applicable to all members of these communities. This issue was addressed by Mahoney et al (1998), who encountered a similar dilemma when dealing with Hofstede’s (1980) cultural dimensions. As they put it: ‘Note that these dimensions do not represent absolutes, but instead reflect tendencies within cultures. Within any given culture, there are likely to be people at every point on each dimension’ (Mahoney et al 1998, p. 538). As such, readers of this paper should bear in mind that it is the tendencies within cultures that are being referred to when culturally specific issues are raised, not behaviour universally applicable within that culture.
One of the seminal works on negotiating is Fisher and Ury’s (1991) ‘Getting to Yes - Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In’. In this book, a product of the Harvard Negotiation Project, the authors put forward the concept of ‘principled negotiation’, which is described as a method that allows you to ‘obtain what you are entitled to and still be decent’ (p. xiv). The authors, therefore, reject the use of tricks or posturing and tend to advocate the use of win/win or integrative bargaining styles. The book is very broad in scope, covering all manner of negotiations and attempts to bring a universal approach to all negotiations. As such, it is not specific to international business negotiations and is essentially acultural, in that, culturally based differences in approaches, attitudes and principles that may impact on cross-cultural negotiations are not considered.
In contrast to this, Salacuse (1998), after a review of the literature and interviews with practitioners, outlined ‘ten factors in the negotiation process that seem to be influenced by a person’s culture’ (p. 223). He further proposed that the culturally different responses would fall on a point on a continuum between two polar extremes. Salacuse’s ten factors and associated continuum are shown in Table 1.
The first factor, Negotiating Goals: Contract or Relationship, relates to the purpose or intent of the parties to the negotiation. According to a number of authors (Chen 1993; Martin et al 1999; Phatak & Habib 1996; Salacuse 1998; Stone 1996a) American business negotiators, in general, have as their primary negotiating aim, the signing of a contract between the parties. They consider such a contract a binding agreement that outlines the roles, rights and obligations of each party. In contrast to this, negotiators from Asian cultures are believed to have a more fluid (as opposed to watertight) view of contracts and, therefore, place more emphasis on establishing a sustainable business relationship rather than a contract (Chen 1993; Martin et al 1999; Paik & Tung 1999; Stone 1996a).
This cultural difference also affects the type of contract desired by negotiators from many non-Western cultures. Buszynski (1993), for instance, notes that many Asian cultures eschew the ‘Western tradition of legalism’ and ‘prefer to leave things vague’ (p. 20), which is reflected in a preference for general, less detailed, contracts. Additionally, people from these cultures are said to have a cultural expectation that the renegotiation of an existing contract is reasonable if conditions change or unforseen events affect the perceived profitability of the venture. These characteristics are associated with both Chinese (Chen 1993; Kirkbride et al 1991; Melvin 1995; Pye 1992; Stone 1996a) and Japanese (Kotler et al 1996; March 1995; Mead 1998; Pechter 1992; Phatak & Habib 1996) negotiators, as well as other cultural groups in Asia (Salacuse 1998).
The importance of relationships when negotiating with most cultural groups in Asia is also outlined by numerous authors (Coll 1996; Kotler et al 1996; Martin et al 1999; Mead 1998; Paik & Tung 1999; Pechter 1992; Slamet 1995). However, the nature of the relationship receives scant attention. In relation to the People’s Republic of China (PRC), Mead (1998) outlines the conflicting conclusions of previous scholars. Pye (1992), for instance, proposes that the Chinese use notions of friendship developed during the early stages of the negotiation to gain better terms later on, while Child (1994) concluded their attempts at friendship may be genuine. In contrast, McGuinness et al (1991) ‘conclude that the Chinese most frequently evaluate relationships in a utilitarian manner that reflects the value of the package’ (Mead 1998, p.243). In relation to the Japanese, Martin et al (1999) outline the various relationship-building functions ‘where the Japanese executives are making judgements about the others’ integrity, reliability, commitment and humility’ (p. 67). This also tends to emphasise utility over friendship as the aim of the relationship building process.
Engholm (1992), dealing more broadly with East-West business relationships, outlines two possible types of relationships in the region. The first is characterised by formality, politeness and a need-to-know level of transparency. Although there is a degree of loyalty between parties, their respective business interests come first. However, as Engholm (1992) explains:
The second type is a truly personalised relationship that is completely transparent and is founded on loyalty and reciprocity. Trust between the partners is never feigned. Few Westerners are party to this type of relationship with Asian business people, unless they are linked to them through family relations (p. 11). The second factor, Win/Lose or Win/Win, is also known as distributive or integrative bargaining respectively. In the former, the parties to the negotiation see each other’s goals as incompatible and, therefore, believe one party can only gain at the expense of the other, thus, putting each party in competition with the other. In the latter case, however, the parties to the negotiation consider themselves to have compatible goals and, therefore, assume both parties should stand to gain from the final agreement. They, therefore, cooperate with each other to devise a mutually beneficial solution.
The latter win/win negotiating attitude is the hallmark of Fisher and Ury’s (1981) principled negotiation, mentioned earlier, and has become a prominent feature of much of the negotiation literature derived from the West, even when dealing with negotiators from other cultures. So much so, that, according to Pechter (1992), ‘the low-key, nonadversarial, win/win negotiating style’…is…’now regarded as the most effective way for Americans to do business with people from other cultures’ (p. 46). However, Li and Labig (1996) disagree with this assertion and argue that, in reality, parties to international business negotiations, in particular, often ‘have both cooperative and competitive interests that mandate a mix of both distributive and integrative tactics’ (p. 100). They further argue that the win-win/win-lose dichotomy should be replaced by a relationship orientation that recognises and caters for the reality of mixed motives in international business negotiations.
From a culturally specific perspective, the Chinese are most commonly characterised as bringing a win/lose attitude to international business negotiations (Dunung 1995; Kirkbride et al 1991; Stone 1996b). However, Engholm (1992) and English (1996) broaden this to include most of the business people of Asia who are familiar with the military tactics of Sun-Tzu’s Art of War and similar works.
A final consideration in this area is that negotiations themselves may only be appropriate when searching for a win-win outcome. As Choi and Kelemen (1995) explain:
According to the literature, it is not always best to negotiate in the international environment. It appears that negotiation is the appropriate approach to doing business only when relationships are very important, the value of exchange is high, the commitment is important, the time is sufficient, the trust level is high and the power distribution is low. When all of these are low or not important it is better to adopt a take it or leave it strategy or eventually a bargaining position. Negotiation is preferred for creating win win solutions in international situations.
The third factor, Personal Style: Formal or Informal, relates to how negotiators interact with counterparts at the table. ‘Formal negotiators insist on addressing counterparts by their titles, avoid personal anecdotes, and refrain from asking questions that relate to the private life of the other negotiating team’s members. Informal negotiators, on the other hand, may start discussions on a first name basis, quickly seek to develop a personal, friendly relationship with the other team, and (if male) may take off his jacket and roll up his sleeves when deal making begins in earnest’ (Salacuse 1998, p. 228).
In this regard, negotiators from Germany, Japan, China and Java are considered to have a formal style of interaction relative to Americans (Kirkbride et al 1991; Kotler et al 1996; Martin et al 1999; Salacuse 1998; Slamet 1994; Stone 1996a) while Buszynski (1993) generalises this characteristic to most Asian cultures.
The fourth factor, Communications: Direct or Indirect, relates to the literature’s claims that people from certain cultures tend to adopt direct and simple methods of communication (eg, Germans and Americans), while people from other cultures tend to rely on indirect, more complex, methods (eg, the French and Japanese). ‘In cultures that rely on indirect communication, such as the Japanese, reaction to proposals may be gained by interpreting seemingly indefinite comments, gestures, and other signs’ (Salacuse 1998, p. 230). One of the oft mentioned expressions of indirect communications is the reluctance of most Asians to say ‘no’ directly, particularly the Japanese, Thais, and Javanese. The notable exception in this regard being the Koreans, who according to one study, were three times more likely to say ‘no’ as the Japanese (Kotler et al 1996, p. 902).
The fifth factor, Time Sensitivity: High or Low, relates to cultural differences in attitudes towards time and the length of time devoted to the negotiation itself. According to Paik & Tung (1999), based on work carried out by Kirkbride et al (1991) and Redding (1980), East Asians view time ‘as polychronic, non-linear, repetitive and associated with events; Americans, on the other hand, view time as monochronic, sequential, absolute and prompt’ (p. 111). This view of Americans is supported by Phatak & Habib (1996) and extended to the Germans by Salacuse (1998).
Most Asian cultures, particularly the Japanese, are renowned for the length of their negotiations. As one interviewer responded in a recent study - ‘A meeting that might take three days to conclude in the US will probably take two weeks in Japan’ (Paik & Tung 1999, p. 111). The reason for this is indirectly culturally based, in that, most Asian negotiators have a cultural preference to establish a relationship before they begin the negotiations proper (Buszynski 1993; Kotler et al 1996; Martin et al 1999; Mead 1998; Slamet 1995). That is, they don’t have a cultural preference for long negotiations, only for developing a relationship. The resulting effect is exacerbated by the business culture existing in some countries. The Japanese consensus based decision-making process (ring-seido) and the Chinese negotiator’s need to report results at each stage to higher (decision-making) authorities, are cases in point (Paik & Tung 1999, pp. 111-112).
The sixth factor, Emotionalism: High or Low, relates to the differing views between cultures as to the appropriateness of displaying emotions, as these differing cultural norms may be brought to the negotiating table. According to Salacuse (1998), ‘Latin Americans show their emotions at the negotiating table, while Japanese and many other Asians hide their feelings’ (p. 231). This is supported by Pechter (1992) who outlines an example of a negotiation where the Japanese party was offended by the other party and reacted by simply obfuscating and delaying a response, giving no physical indication that they were upset. Similarly, Chen (1993) explains that the ‘public expression of anger are considered bad manners in China’ (p. 14), but also outlines how the Chinese may feign anger to gain concessions. This perhaps explains the ‘emotional, dictatorial style’ encountered by a number of Australian executives operating in China (Blackman 1996, p. 27) that appears contrary to the Chinese negotiation behaviour and conflict handling preferences expounded by Kirkbride et al (1991, p. 376).
The seventh factor, Form of Agreement: General or Specific, relates to the culturally specific preference for the form of written agreement the contract takes. For instance, Americans are said to ‘prefer detailed contracts that attempt to anticipate all possible circumstances’ (Salacuse 1998, p. 232), while the Chinese, Japanese, Koreans and other Asian peoples, such as the Overseas Chinese, prefer a contract in the form of general principles rather than detailed rules (Chen 1993; March 1995; Martin et al 1999; Mead 1998; Paik & Tung 1999; Stone 1996a). The latter group’s preference, in large part, is the result of their different view of what a contract is. To them the signing of a contract is said to signify the beginning of a relationship, the details of which can be further negotiated post contract.
The eighth factor, Building an Agreement: Bottom Up or Top Down, relates to the culturally different processes for developing agreements. Negotiators from some cultures are said to prefer to begin negotiations by establishing general principles that are used as the framework upon which the contract is built. That is, they prefer a deductive or top down process. On the other hand, negotiators from other cultures are said to prefer to begin negotiations by first dealing with specifics, such as price, quality, and delivery dates; the sum total of which becomes the contract. That is, they prefer an inductive or bottom up process. According to the literature, the French, Chinese, Koreans and, to some extent, the Japanese, prefer a top down process while Americans prefer a bottom up process (Chen 1993; Kirkbride et al 1991; Paik & Tung 1999; Salacuse 1998).
The ninth factor, Team Organisation: One Leader or Group Consensus, relates to the culturally specific ways different groups organise themselves and how decisions are made within the group. At one end of the spectrum a negotiating team may have a supreme leader who has complete authority to decide all matters, while at the other end, authority rests with the group and decision-making occurs through consensus. In the latter case, the negotiating teams tend to be relatively larger than in the former case because of the greater number of personnel involved in the decision-making process.
According to the literature, Americans have a cultural preference for the one leader/small group combination, while the Japanese and Mainland Chinese prefer the consensus decision-making/large team combination. For the Japanese, the decision-making is a more pure consensus based process than the Mainland Chinese because it revolves around the concept of nemawashi or group commitment and ring-seido or group consultation within the firm. In Mainland China, however, a consensus-based process is necessary because of the number of interested parties, many external to the firm, who are involved in the final outcome. These may be Provincial and Federal bureaucrats from a range of different departments, who are often competing with each other or hold varying levels of power and authority relative to the deal being negotiated (Blackman 1996; Chen 1993; Kotler et al 1996; March 1995; Marten et al 1999; Mead 1998; Paik & Tung 1999; Salacuse 1998).
The tenth factor, Risk Taking: High or Low, relates to research indicating certain cultures are more risk averse than others (Hofstede 1980). According to Salacuse (1998), in this regard, ‘the culture of the negotiators can affect the willingness of one side to take "risks" in a negotiation - to divulge information, try new approaches, or tolerate uncertainties in a proposed course of action’ and ‘the Japanese are said to be highly risk-averse in negotiations’ (p. 236). Although inherently logical, this characteristic does not appear to be widely reported in the literature.
The way concessions are used by different international business negotiators appears to be another cultural factor that will impact on the negotiation process. According to Mead (1998), ‘cultures vary in terms of what concessions they might offer, and of what value’ (p. 247). There also appears to be a cultural variance as to when, during the negotiations, the concessions are offered. For instance, the literature indicates that while American negotiators tend ‘to make small concessions early to establish a relationship and to keep the negotiation process moving forward smoothly’ (Phatak & Habib 1996, p. 34), ‘East Asians prefer to make concessions towards the middle or at the end of the negotiations’ (Paik & Tung 1999, p. 113). These stereotypes are supported by Blackman (1997), Chen (1993) and Mead (1998) who all apply this characteristic to the Chinese, while Phatak and Habib (1996) and Martin et al (1999) outline its use by the Japanese.
Another, apparently culturally specific area related to concessions is the initial starting price put forward by negotiators. Within the literature, the Chinese are characterised as setting much higher initial starting prices and positions, than negotiators from other cultures. Blackman (1997) sees this as part of China’s ‘haggling tradition’. As she explains, ‘the haggling formula followed is fairly standard. It begins with broad principles and unrealistic demands, and proceeds with exaggeration of Chinese compromises and minimisation of those yielded by the opposition…’ (p. 194). In recognition of this, a number of authors recommend this tactic be reciprocated when negotiating with the Chinese. That is, ‘play the game’. For instance, Kirkbride et al (1991) ‘suggest that parties who expect to reach compromise solutions in the bargaining process will correspondingly give themselves greater room for manoeuvre and movement by setting higher and more extreme initial demands and offers’ (p. 376).
The apparent Japanese belief that buyers are of much greater importance than sellers is another cultural factor that will affect negotiations. According to Graham (1993) ‘Americans have little understanding of the Japanese practice of giving complete deference to the needs and wishes of buyers’ (p. 128). Mead (1998) outlines how this deference is expressed in the language used between buyer and seller in Japan, while Martin et al (1999) explain that the nature of the relationship is similar to that existing between father and son; with the son equating to the seller and the father equating to the buyer. Kotler et al (1996) relate the importance of the buyer to the inordinate amount of time salespeople spend servicing customers in Japan. However, more relevant for international business negotiations, is March’s (1995) list of distinctive features that affect negotiations as a consequence of the notion that the buyer or customer is ‘king’ in Japan. These are:
She expects service and even servility as her right
In major industries, buyers expect to be feted often
The buyer views buying proposals with a cold eye. Enthusiasm on the part of a professional buyer is virtually un-Japanese behaviour
When overseas, the Japanese buyer is most likely to trust information from other Japanese, rather than from local peoples he doesn’t know
(March 1995, p. 4)
The issue of ‘face’ also appears to be an important cultural factor for international business negotiations, especially in Asia and particularly in China. In fact, in recent research on commercial negotiations in the PRC ‘the importance of ‘face’ was constantly mentioned’ (Stone 1996a, p. 137) by the experienced China trade negotiators under interview. ‘To an American, losing face is embarrassing; to a Chinese losing face is devastating, the ultimate disgrace. A Chinese will go to almost any length to avoid a loss of face’ (Coll 1996, p. 480). According to Blackman (1997), ‘face refers to a person’s reputation, the respect in which he is held by others’ (p. 17) and can impact on business negotiations in a number of ways.
‘If the Chinese team has lost interest in the deal, for instance, it will not come out and say so, but will be so inflexible that the foreign side is forced to withdraw from the negotiations, thereby enabling the Chinese team to have saved “face”’ (Chen 1993, p. 16). If a foreign negotiator loses his/her temper or contradicts or criticises someone from the Chinese negotiating team in public, this negotiator will have offended against Chinese ‘face’ and will almost certainly lose the deal. He/she may even find that other potential prospects also suddenly lose interest in doing business. ‘Face may also become an issue in negotiations when the Chinese avoid speaking openly about a sensitive problem. They deflect the burning issue onto something else’ (Blackman 1997, p. 20). The resulting indirect communications has the potential to create significant, if not terminal, misunderstandings.
‘Face’ has a complexity that goes beyond these simple descriptions, however, and as the following example shows, needs to be understood within the context of the environment in which the Chinese or Asian parties operate.
Erroneously believing that the Chinese counterpart has equal authority, the American, after what seems to be a suitable interval, presses for closure on the deal, or at least for some promise of a positive outcome. Such pressure places the negotiator in an untenable position because the fate of the deal is out of his hands. If he makes any promises to the American he will loose face with his colleagues should higher ups veto the deal. If he does not respond to the American’s demands he will loose face with the American by appearing weak and vacillating and the loss will be noted by his colleagues. The avenue of escape is to refuse further meetings with the American.
(Coll 1996, p. 480)
A final dimension on ‘face’ is the public context associated with it. Blackman (1997 & 1996) and Buszynski (1993), for instance, talk of preventing the loss of face and of saving and giving face in public, indicating that different rules may apply in a private setting. That is, the loss of face or gain of face may only be realised in a public context and content that may be inappropriate (offends against face) in public may be less so in private. This contention is consistent with the concept of ‘shame’ orientated cultures associated with Chinese and other Asian societies. In such societies ‘shame refers to an interpersonal frame in which behaviour is compared to social norms rather than to internalized personal standards (as in “guilt” cultures)’ (Kirkbride et al. 1991, p. 369).
Another factor, outlined in the literature, affecting international business negotiations, is difficulties in identifying the true decision-maker of the other party, especially in Asia. In some instances, it has been reported that the decision-maker may be concealed within the team or was subsequently found to be remote from the negotiations (Mead 1998, p. 241; Martin et al 1999, p.68). Engholm (1992), provides an example from a Sino-Canadian negotiation, where a local Chinese who presented himself as the Canadian’s interpreter for the day, turned out to be the city’s ‘leading official from the Ministry of Foreign Economic Relations and Trade’ (p. 10).
A more instructive passage, that not only indicates the difficulties identifying decision-makers, but also the complexity of the process in China, comes from Li’s (1988) Handbook for Chinese Negotiations.
As chief negotiator you must bear the pressure and objectives of the leading group. This is more troublesome than the pressure of the opposite negotiator. You must not follow the line of least resistance simply because the leading group has a particular agenda. When there is a difference of opinion between the negotiating team and the leadership, it is most important to gain the support of the intermediate leading group. Once that is obtained, write a report for the leadership which analyses and weighs all factors and ask the leadership to write comments on it. When the leadership sees that your opinion is based on thorough and balanced analysis, it will, in most circumstances, take it into account.
(In Blackman 1996, p. 25)
The above passage may, in part, explain Blackman’s (1997) recommendation in a later work to not bother identifying the decision-maker. As she explains, ‘most of the power brokers will not be present at the negotiations. Trying to identify who in the group is important and influential and who is not, is not a useful exercise as it is peripheral to the Chinese decision-making process’ (p. 51).
A large percentage of international negotiation literature is devoted to outlining the cultural mores and values of the people who live in various non-Western countries. The implicit message is that Western negotiators should adapt to these countries’ cultural values. Buszynski (1993), for instance, claims that negotiators ‘should try to identify the ethnic background of the people one is dealing with and adjust one’s behaviour accordingly’ (p. 20). Similarly, Blackman’s (1996) research indicates that ‘successful Australian negotiators acknowledge the Chinese bargaining process and adjust their behaviour accordingly’ (p. 25). However, very little work has been put forward on how far a negotiator should try to adapt to the other person’s cultural values when carrying out international negotiations, even though this would appear to be a question of crucial importance.
Mead (1998) asks exactly this question and refers to the experimental work carried out by Francis (1991) that indicated moderate adaptation by Asians in the United States was more effective than substantial adaptation. He also refers to an example of a culturally literate American who does not disclose or utilise this (ie, no adaptation) to the Southeast Asians he is dealing with in order to gain strategic advantage. As such, although the question is asked, it is not really answered. The experiment, although useful, cannot be extrapolated to all negotiations, just as the example cannot be generalised. English (1996) partly addresses this question by arguing against complete adaptation when negotiating with people from other cultures. As he explains, ‘Asian people do not expect or want Australians to perform a pseudo-Asian role play - it results in caricature, and therefore tends to affront and embarrass. The best approach is to know and meet the standards of politeness required in the particular Asian setting’ (p. 54).
However, a more sophisticated approach to the appropriate level of adaptation is presented by Weiss (1994a) who contends that the old adage ‘when in Rome, do as the Romans do’ is no longer appropriate to international negotiators operating in today’s global economy. Instead he proposes eight possible culturally responsive strategies, the choice of which depends on the degree of familiarity the negotiator has with his counterpart’s culture, and conversely, the degree of familiarity the counterpart has with the negotiator’s culture. As such, the appropriate level of adaptation, prima facie, becomes a function of two variables. This is shown graphically in Figure 1.
Culturally Responsive Strategies and their Feasibility
High Induce counterpart to Improvise and approach
Follow one’s own script [Effect Symphony]
Familiarity Adapt to the counterpart’s script
With [Coordinate adjustment of both parties]
Employ agent or adviser Embrace the
[Involve mediator] counterpart’s script
Low Negotiator’s Familiarity with High
[Brackets indicate a joint strategy, which requires deliberate consultation with counterpart. At each level of familiarity, a negotiator can consider feasible the strategies designated at that level and any lower level]
Source: Weiss 1994a, p. 54
However, Weiss (1994b) recognised that this framework is essentially one-dimensional in that it only relates to ‘the negotiator’s and counterpart’s familiarity with each other’s cultures’ (Weiss 1994a, p. 60). This is what Weiss (1994b) calls feasibility. To be appropriate, the feasible strategy needs to be considered in relation to ‘its fit with the counterpart’s likely approach and therefore its capacity to lead to coherent interaction, its appropriateness to the relationship and circumstances at hand, and its acceptability in light of the manager’s values’ (Weiss 1994b, p. 85).
In light of this added complexity, Weiss (1994b) presents the following five steps for selecting a culturally responsive strategy (which impacts on the appropriate level of adaptation).
1 Reflect on your culture’s negotiation script.
2 Learn the negotiation script of the counterpart’s culture.
3 Consider the relationship and circumstances.
4 Predict and influence the counterpart’s approach.
5 Choose your strategy.
(Weiss 1994b, p. 86)
Weiss (1994b) goes on to outline these steps in considerable detail, even providing a matrix to determine the degree of complementarity between each party’s strategy. However, for the purposes of this paper it is sufficient to note that Step 3 brings a number of other contextual issues into the degree of adaptation appropriate. For instance, buyers and sellers act differently in the same market, prior relationships will influence a negotiation and the appropriate level of adaptation, as will the balance of power between parties. Following Weiss’ (1994a, 1994b) culturally responsive strategies proposal then, means that the appropriate level of adaptation is a function of the negotiation strategy adopted, which in turn is a function of the cultural understandings of the negotiators involved and a number of contextual factors surrounding the negotiation.