business in other cultures
Relationships key in establishing cross-cultural
business trust, say Kellogg School experts
What do the United States and most of Southeast Asia have in common
when it comes to trade and marketing negotiations?
|© Nathan Mandell
Prof. Angela Lee
Our styles are pretty yin-yang, say Jeanne
Brett, the DeWitt W. Buchanan Jr. Distinguished Professor
of Dispute Resolution and Angela
Y. Lee, associate professor of marketing at the Kellogg
with increased global trade and marketing, Americans find
themselves a little baffled by their Asian counterparts —
and vice versa — when it comes to negotiating business
tend to conduct business in a straightforward way. They readily
share information. They get right to the point and try to
reach a deal as quickly as possible, says Brett, who directs
the Kellogg School Dispute
Resolution Research Center, founded in 1986 to support
and disseminate leading-edge thinking in negotiations and
dispute resolution. In business parlance, Americans are "low
context," meaning they are direct and focused on the
deal, not the intangibles such as studying the nuances of
the person with whom theyíre trying to negotiate a transaction.
contrast, Asians — and the Chinese in particular — are
high context. Establishing a relationship with a prospective
business partner, even an Asian one, is an essential part
of their negotiating process, Brett says. It allows them
to develop the trust they need to proceed with a deal. Asians
also are guarded about sharing information; historically
it has made them too vulnerable. Inferences are good, directness
sharing is the lowest common denominator, but the Chinese
wonít participate in that," Brett says. Itís not that
they are stubborn. Rather, "it's
culturally inappropriate for them to come down to our level."
Brett says this philosophy also holds true for other cultures,
such as those in the Middle East and parts of South America.
© Nathan Mandell
Prof. Jeanne Brett
an American to do? Let your Asian partner lead the dance,
say Brett and Lee.
They recommend that American businesspeople study Asian
culture. Once they do, it quickly becomes apparent that Asians
have a distinctly different mind-set from most of their U.S.
"Americans live in an individualistic culture," says
Lee. "We seek out products that make us feel energized
and beautiful, that advance the self and make us feel better.
Asians, on the other hand, are collectivistic and focused
on 'how do I avoid bad things like cancer.' We both want
good things, but in a different way."
Americans and Asians may even want the same products, she
says, but the products need to be custom-marketed to make
them successful in each culture.
"The key is to do proper market research," Lee
explains. "For example, sports marketing is a concept
that wouldn't have worked in China until recently because
China traditionally is not into spectator sports." But
when China joined the World Trade Organization in 2001,
the Chinese became exposed to more uncensored media, such
commercials featuring professional Chinese athletes promoting
American soft drinks and computers.
Knowing this, U.S. marketers can shift their strategy to
encourage Chinese consumers to identify with their country's
star athletes, Lee suggests.
"Some American companies have already realized that
they have to change their marketing strategy to appeal to
Asians, while others have yet to catch up," she says.
And lest Americans think Asians will come around to embracing
U.S. models of marketing and negotiating, well, don't bet
"Their traditions won't change fast," Brett says,
because "most of their negotiations are internal."
And that translates into business as usual.