Business Etiquette in Japanese Negotiations

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Business Etiquette in Japanese Negotiations

The world economy is dependent on trade between countries. As globalization of the world's economy increases, companies depend on international negotiations to build strong relationships and extend their services to a larger market. Since World War II, Japan and the United States have become dependent on one another's markets to fuel their economy. Japan is the second largest supplier to the U.S. and the United States is the largest supplier of imports to Japan. As a result, companies strive to teach Japanese business etiquette to their international negotiators.

International negotiators encounter many cultural differences when they are conducting business in Japan. In addition to language differences, there are different values, opinions and sentiments. There is a strong sense of hierarchy in Japan accompanied with many rules for etiquette in a business environment. Americans who wish to strike a deal with Japanese partners should understand and appreciate the hierarchical system that is in place. Though foreigners are not expected to be aware of the exact behavior in every situation, the Japanese appreciate it when a foreign business associate exhibits a general understanding of Japanese ways.

The biggest concept for Westerners to grasp is that Japanese view negotiations as the beginning of a long relationship, where the formal agreement is a mere testament to that association. Americans, on the other hand, tend to view negotiations as a competitive way to sign a binding contract between two parties assigning specific rights and obligations to each party. Relationships are not of high importance in western culture. Trust, however, is a huge ingredient necessary to conduct business in Japan. It is viewed as the building block to all long term relationships. Before beginning negotiations, foreigners need to alter their thinking to build trust with their Japanese contacts.

Setting up a business meeting in Japan takes more effort than a mere phone call to a secretary. Traditionally, Japanese will not do business with people whom they do not know well. It comes down to an issue of trust. In order to avoid having to go through introductions level by level through the organization, it is very helpful to use a third party or Sh kai-Sha. A Sh kai-Sha is a person who will contact the Japanese company and act on your behalf. When selecting a third party intermediary, it is important that he is well respected by the organization with which you wish to do business. The Japanese will associate your firm with the Sh kai-Sha; hence it is much easier for them to enter into negotiations. In addition, one should hire an interpreter independent of the company with who you are dealing with. Interpreters can be a valuable tool in both the business and social gatherings that will occur.[1]

The last obstacle to prepare for when conducting business in Japan is women are still at a disadvantage. The role of women is to take care of the home. In recent years, Japanese women have advanced somewhat in the business world but they are not accepted as much as in the west. If a women executive is a member of the team, there are certain things to be aware of. Foreign female business partners may experience some adversity and prejudice from older conservative Japanese men. They may be viewed as incompetent and unworthy of their position. It is important that women establish their credibility from the beginning. She should act like a professional and not be afraid to assert her intelligence in a modest way. It is also helpful if male colleagues look to her for an opinion. In social settings, women should be aware that their behavior will always be under scrutiny. Women will be prohibited from participating in some social gatherings, but dinner and bar hopping are acceptable.[2]

Once a meeting has been established, a negotiator needs to prepare for the trip so that he is ready to be accepted by...
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