How to negotiate with… the Japanese.

We’ve got 11 practical tips for anyone looking to partner with Japanese companies and not get egg in their face.

1) Punctuality. The Japanese value their time and really appreciate it when people respect their schedules. Try to show up early or at least one time to meetings. No amount of explanation will excuse you for being late. Punctuality is a high priority in Japan.

2) Do not try to mirror the Japanese. If you haven’t lived in Japan and don’t know how deep to bow in a certain situation, don’t worry. The Japanese typically treat foreigners well. Just follow normal business etiquette in your country. However, be careful with gestures: if your potential partner is nodding their head, that doesn’t mean they agree with your point. In Japan, nodding is way to show that you are listening and you follow what the speaker is saying.

3) There’s no reason to present a large number of different compromises or options for you partnership. Japanese businesspeople won’t see it as offering them a choice; instead, it will seem like you don’t know what to offer them. You’d be better off preparing one very well-thought out idea.

4) Concrete facts and figures should play a big role in your presentation. Show how you came up with your numbers, and you’re better off reading the text aloud.

5) Deadlines are absolute and must be met. Avoid vague or unclear statements even when you’re just discussing them. In Japanese, the use future tenses are associated with a level of uncertainty. The sentence “Construction will be complete at the end of 2019” is a nightmare. You’re better off giving a detailed step-by-step explanation of the key stages of the process with concrete numbers.

6) Do not try to go over anyone’s head to talk to upper management—that will just slow down the decision process, and it may make you seem difficult to work with and put your partnership in question. Japanese businesses typically do not have a top-down structure. A firm’s position on important issues is formed by discussion among middle managers, and only then if the question raised with top management. It is completely unheard of to try to skip those steps and distract leadership from their strategic planning to resolve your issue.

7) Be open. When building partnerships with the Japanese, it’s important to do more than share information. In their culture, you should try to get onto the same wavelength and share common experiences. If you can do that, then relations with them will be smooth sailing. Remember that openness is also crucial because you won’t be able to keep partnerships with one player on the Japanese market secret from the others. Keep than in mind.

8) It is also important to consider the social and business status of your future partners; it should be equal to yours. If your status is lower than that of your potential partner, negotiations may not take place, as they may see it as losing face. Likewise if your status is higher, they may see the partnership as more of a mentorship or it may look like they are begging, both of which are undesirable.

9) When holding talks, don’t try to pressure or threaten your partners. Those methods are ineffective in Japan, although the Japanese may try to use psychological pressure. As a rule, the Japanese will make concessions only if they feel they are mutual.

10) In Japanese business relations, the use of business cards is of great importance. They play the role of ID cards, which contain, along with their name and position, the most important aspect for a Japanese person, firm or organization they belong to, which ultimately determines their position in the society. So it should be remembered that meeting representatives of Japanese businesses always begins with the exchange of business cards. That is why, when you are planning to meet with Japanese businesses, you have to make sure you bring enough business cards with you. If, in response to an extended card, you do not offer your own, it can confuse or even offend a Japanese businessperson.

11) During official negotiations, the Japanese seek to avoid clashes of position. Significant changes of position or negotiation tactics are exceedingly rare. At the same time, Japanese businessmen pay a great deal of attention to developing personal relationships with partners, so it is wise not to be cold or indifferent in the discussion of more personal problems, because by doing so you can upset your Japanese partner. You need to show that you are kind and sincere in your interactions. These qualities will endear you to your partners.

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