Cultural Differences: SONY Walkman designed for harmony

Cultural Differences: SONY Walkman designed for harmony

Whether it involves managing a joint venture, getting alignment across all business regions, or finding a political solution to a conflict, the ability to communicate, problem solve and make decisions is impacted by our cultural beliefs and behaviours. In this issue of Negotiation Insights, we consider the importance of modifying the negotiation process and behaviours to minimise misunderstandings and create forward moves.

An example of how culture impacts decision-making comes from the authors of ‘Riding the Waves of Culture: Understanding Diversity in Global Business’ (1997)’, Fons Trompenaars and Charles Hampden-Turner.

When explaining how the Walkman was conceived, the Chairman of Sony, Mr. Morita, stated that he loves classical music and wanted to have a way of listening to it on his way to work without bothering fellow commuters. The Walkman was a way of him doing so without imposing on the outside world, but of being in harmony with it. Contrast that to the way most Westerners think about using the device: "I can listen to music without being disturbed by other people".

As we can observe from this example, cultural norms can lead to people having very different mindsets towards the same subject matter. Without an understanding of these cultural differences, the effectiveness of negotiations has the potential to be maximised or diminished. To minimise the risk of cultural misunderstandings and to better understand that there is more than one way to achieve the same outcome, skilled negotiators give careful thought to the behaviours and negotiation process that make the other side feel respected and genuinely understood.

While it is inevitable that a social group will influence our beliefs, behaviours and values, it is also worth noting that in the modern world a single culture rarely shapes us. For negotiators, the upside of these wider experiences and conditioning mean our cultural identities are often broad enough to find common ground with those we might initially misunderstand. Examples might include belonging to the same nationality, religion, race, generation, gender, socioeconomic class or political affiliation.

Self-coaching tips

  • Issue an agenda to get process agreement, engage stakeholders and move towards a draft agreement. In addition include the timeline, topics, roles and responsibilities, and any cultural protocols.
  • Confirm the scope of the negotiators’ mandates and explain early how trust will be verified, information shared, and confidentiality and record keeping managed.
  • Agree on definitions for ambiguous language such as ‘negotiating in good faith’ and demonstrate empathy to your counterpart’s culture by using a greater ratio of questions to statements.
  • Avoid revealing early positions that could cause premature positional bargaining and discuss multiple issues to identify non-competing preferences.
  • Anticipate deadlocks and understand how status and power are perceived in the development of face saving concessions exchanges.


Avoiding Buyer's Remorse: Knowing when to close

Breaking Deadlocks: AFL resolves stalemate

Changing Perceptions: Shane Warne recalls advice

Collaborating to Create Value: Power to the people

Coping Strategies: Managing difficult Negotiators

Creating Alternatives: Flying fresh milk to China

Creating Points of Influence: Russell Crowe gets his leading lady

Cultural Differences: SONY Walkman designed for harmony

Defining Fairness: US German trade negotiations

Difficult Conversations: Thalidomide sufferers seek empathy

Elon Musk: When to negotiate

Engaging the Enemy: US and Taliban peace talks

Finding Common Ground: US Firearm reforms

Gun Tragedies: We hear you

Hostage Negotiations: A frontline perspective

Identity Needs: Tobacco now a nobody

Influencing Timelines: The brave new world of regulators

In Focus: Black Friday Negotiation Strategies

In Focus: Negotiating Roles

In Focus: Winning Together

Leadership Without Authority: Reducing domestic violence

Managing COVID-19 Renegotiations

Managing Power Imbalances

Managing Uncertainty: New freeway gets a red light

Measuring Negotiation Costs

Mindsets: It’s a choice!

Negotiating Teams & Coalitions

Negotiating with Agents

Negotiation Preparation: Prime Minster wins election

Negotiation Styles: Managing aggressive behaviours

Price Haggling: Strategies to position value

Problem Solving: Calm in the cockpit

Problem Solving: Delivering outcomes

Restoring Relationships: Saying sorry

Setting the Scene: Automotive executives fly into a storm

Shaping Mindsets: AVIS We try harder

Taylor Swift: Giving others a voice

The Authentic Negotiator

The Power of Language: A statement or a question?

Timing Concessions: Bangladesh factory tragedy

Traits of Skilled Negotiators: Nelson Mandela

Verifying Trust: World soccer cup and gulf of Mexico oil spill