sensitivity to cultural differences that impact business practice in foreign markets

Posted: October 17th, 2013










Competency 309.2.4: Cultural Sensitivity – The graduate demonstrates sensitivity to cultural differences that impact business practice in foreign markets






Culture dictates how we conduct societal issues including business activities. Moreover, different areas in the world have diverse cultural practices. Consequently, for Company A, an American manufacturing firm, to market its heavy-duty engines in the East Asia market, particularly Japan, it must understand the Japanese culture. The most important aspects to comprehend when venturing in a foreign market, is how business is conducted, as well as, the marketing strategies used in the country.

Cross-cultural issues

Accordingly, the marketing strategy employed by Company A in marketing their heavy-duty engines will have a direct influence on the success of their sales in Japan. The marketing approach should incorporate cultural aspects of the Japanese culture. For instance, what might be acceptable in the American marketing culture may be perceived as wrong in the Japanese marketing culture. For example, how men address women in the Japanese culture is very different from the way it is done in America. Japanese men are sensitive towards the women. Moreover, they are very sensitive to exploitation of women in advertisements. Accordingly, Company A must carefully consider how they use women in advertising their engine components.

Second, company A should carefully consider what is of importance to the Japanese market. This will ensure that they come up with an effectual marketing strategy. For instance, grease fighting soaps are very important to Japanese. However, most engine companies tend to ignore this fact. Consequently, when marketing its engine components, Company A must keenly consider what is of importance to the Japanese market in respect to this, for the sake of realizing their marketing goals.

Third, there are huge disparities in the way Japanese people conduct business affairs compared to the Americans. For instance, Japanese are soft spoken, calm and kind when addressing their business partners. On the contrary, Americans may be harsh and aggressive in the way they approach business affairs. A comprehension of such cross-cultural differences will enable Company A to prepare their approach towards negotiations with their Japanese associates. Particularly, it is important to note that Japanese are very keen and patient in decision-making. They are never in a rush to make any decision. In the contrary, Americans are used to the culture of making rash decisions for quick fixes. Therefore, it would be imperative for Company A to approach the negotiation talks by exercising patience with their business partners. Consequently, without this knowledge, Company A could potentially risk losing valuable ground in the Japanese market, thus, losing potential profits.

The slow process in negotiations should not be perceived as a breakdown in the talks. On the contrary, the company should accept that Japanese always think over an issue before making any concrete decisions. These disparities in cross-cultural issues could potentially influence company A’s capacity to position itself strategically in the Japanese market.

The mode of dressing is also relevant when conducting business in Japan. Inappropriate dressing may negatively affect business activities such as marketing in Japan. For instance, Japanese prefer men and women to be dressed conservatively during a business meeting. Women should not wear high-heeled shoes to avoid towering over the men (William, 2012). Caution should also be exercised when using facial expressions and body language as this may distort the actual meaning of information conveyed.


There are various aspects of the Japanese communication culture that may influence Company A’s marketing strategy. For instance, when meeting prospective business pantry in Japan, it is important to note that business proceedings cannot commence without prior exchange of business cards. Interestingly, in Japan, it is an offence to put a business card given to you by the Japanese in your pocket or wallet (William, 2012). Upon receipt of the card, one must carefully examine its details before storing it. Second, in a negotiations meeting, it is imperative to note that greetings in Japan are different from the American style of greeting each other. In America, business partners usually greet each other with a firm handshake. In contrast, Japanese greet each other with a bow (William, 2012). Where a handshake is used, it is normally a weak one. Moreover, how low the bow is, is determined by the status of the relationship between the two parties. Therefore, to show respect to a prospective Japanese business partner, Company A officials should accord the necessary resects to their Japanese counterparts by considering such communication etiquette.

Japanese also prefer addressing someone using their second name (William, 2012). Therefore, Company A officials should acquit themselves with the pronunciations of the names of their Japanese business associates. Moreover, they should not demand that the Japanese address them using their first name. The word ‘san’ should also be used before the name to refer to ‘Mr.’ or ‘Ms.’ (William, 2012). Lastly, it is important to realize that Japanese avoid using the word ‘no’ when they are of a contrary opinion. Consequently, they may imply the answer yes when they in fact mean no. Therefore, it is vital to observe their facial expressions when negotiating to comprehend what they actually mean.


Cross Cultural Ethical Differences

In order to make an impact on the Japanese economy, Company A should not only focus on the economic aspect of the country, it should also focus on the ethical differences that would arise due to the difference in ethical strategies involved in marketing the company’s products in the country. For starters, most American firms employ an egoistic business climate. This means that firms focus more on maximization of self-interest. This is ethical in America but can be considered unethical in Japan since Japanese believe that working together and achieving gain should be mutual, fairly competitive and impersonal. Secondly, Japanese employ benevolence in their strategies and attach religious and traditional importance to their business practices. This is different from Americans who do not apply conventionality and religion to their strategies due to their secularization. Thirdly, job relocation in Japan is unethical. In America, changing jobs does not have an impact on the ethical culture since it is assumed that as long as the individual changing jobs proves to be useful to the organization, then it is fair. However, Japanese believe that changing jobs is disadvantageous since firms believe that the individual lacks loyalty, which is unethical. Personal life also determines ethical differences in the two countries. In America, personal life does not influence a firm negatively. However, Japanese firms attach importance to a person’s personal life since it determines his or her competence. For instance, an employee having an extra marital affair in America will have no impact as long as his or her business credibility is not hindered. However, this can have a negative impact on business in Japan since Japanese judge a person by their actions but not their business credibility. Hierarchy is also another difference between American and Japanese culture. Japanese attach importance to hierarchy such that calling a superior employee by his or her first name is unethical and offensive. Moreover, hierarchy is an important aspect in Japanese traditions, thus not respecting this tradition is unethical.


Evidently, cross-cultural differences can highly influence business activities. In order to succeed in establishing a business or effectively market a product in a foreign country, an individual or a company must keenly consider sensitive cultural issues in terms of communication, conduct and presentation. The degree of conformity to expected standards in the foreign market will dictate the level of success in the business activity.


















William, D. (2012). Geert Hofstede: Analysis for Japan. Retrieved on January 5, 2013 from


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