Intercultural considerations in negotiations

Although words are an essential element of communication, they are not the only means by which we express ourselves. Culture immensely influences how people think, communicate, and behave. It also affects the kinds of dealings they make and the way they negotiate them. When negotiating in an international business environment, where language barriers often arise, we tend to rely more than usual on other elements of communication, such as facial expressions and physical gestures. As a result of cultural differences, however, this “non-verbal” communication can easily be misinterpreted.

In particular, negotiators need to make themselves aware of cultural differences in body language which have the potential to be ambiguous, confusing or even cause offense. Some of those cultural differences in non-verbal communication include:

1. Physical contact

In many countries, physical contact between business partners may be quite natural and acceptable, helping them to build a relationship and work together more effectively. For example, South Americans, French and Italians are more likely to make physical contact with one another (e.g. by placing a hand on a shoulder). In other countries, such as Japan, however, the same contact may make people feel awkward or uncomfortable.

2. Eye contact

Although it will often be seen as good manners and a sign of honesty to establish direct and consistent eye contact with a negotiating counterpart, it may be considered aggressive, intimidating, or even disrespectful, in other cultural contexts.

3. Personal space

Negotiators from some countries stand physically close to their counterpart because they find it easier to build rapport. Others may be uncomfortable with this style of communication and see it as a high pressure tactic.

4. Dress standards

Acceptable standards of dress may differ depending on factors such as country, industry, company and location. For example, some counterparts may feel that you are not taking the proceedings seriously unless you are wearing a shirt, jacket and tie.

5. Use of first names

In some cultural contexts, it may be considered inappropriately informal to use first names. For many non-Japanese it can seem stiff to call people by their last names. However, for many Japanese, being called by a first name is what feels uncomfortable and overly familiar. On the other hand, some Japanese who have more international experience may embrace the use of first names.

6. Attitudes to time

Some negotiators see time as fluid. They may take a very flexible approach to the timing of the negotiations and have no clear timetable for reaching agreement. Other negotiators may prefer a more fixed, agenda-driven process.

What lessons have you learned from negotiating with people from other cultures?

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  1. 身体の物理的接触(ボディタッチ、スキンシップ ※どちらも和製英語です)
  2. アイコンタクト
  3. パーソナルスペース
  4. 服装
  5. ファーストネーム呼び
  6. 時間に対する態度


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awkward 気まずい 落ち着かない
intimidating 威圧的な
disrespectful 失礼な
rapport ラポール 親密な関係
proceedings 手続き 進行
stiff 堅苦しい
embrace 進んで受け容れる
fluid 流動的なもの
agenda-driven 議題ありきの 議題に沿った
lessons 教訓

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