Differences in Language and Nonverbal Behaviors – International Marketing

Americans are clearly near the bottom of the languages skills list, although Australians assert that Australians are even worse. It should be added however that American undergrads recently have begun to see the light and are flocking to language classes and study abroad programs. Unfortunately, foreign language teaching resources in the United States are inadequate to satisfy the increasing demand. In contrast the Czechs are now throwing away a hard earned competitive advantage. Young Czechs will not take Russians anymore. It is easy to understand why, but the result will be a generation of Czechs who cannot leverage their geographic advantage because they will not be able to speak to their neighbors to the east.

The most common complaint heard from American managers regards foreign clients and partners breaking into side conversations in their native languages. At best, this is seen as impolite, and quite often American negotiators are likely to attribute something sinister to the content of the foreign talk.

This is a frequent American mistake. The usual purpose of such side conversations is to straighten out a translation problem. For instance, one Korean may lean over to another and ask, what did he say?  Or the side conversation can regard a disagreement among the foreign team members.

Most Americans speak only one language, neither circumstance is appreciated. By the way, people from other countries are advised to give Americans a brief explanation of the content of their first side conversations to assuage the sinister attributions.

Data from simulated negotiations are also informative. In a study, the verbal behaviours of negotiators in 14 of the cultures (six negotiators in each of the 14 groups) were videotaped. That is, 7 per cent of the statements made by Japanese negotiators were classified as promises 4 per cent as threats, 7 per cent as recommendations and so on. The verbal bargaining behaviours used by the negotiators during the simulations proved to be surprisingly similar across cultures. Negotiations in all 14 cultures studied were composed primarily of information exchange tactics – questions and self-disclosures. Note that the Japanese appear on the low end of the continuum of self-disclosures. Their 34 per cent (along with the English speaking Canadians) was the lowest across all 14 groups, suggesting that they are the most reticent about giving information. Overall, however, the verbal tactics used were surprisingly similar across the diverse cultures.

Although the efforts merely scratch  the surface of these kinds of behavioural analyses, they still provide indications of substantial cultural differences. Note that once again the Japanese are at or next to the end of the continuum on almost every dimension of the behaviours listed. Their facial gazing and touching are the least among the 14 groups. Only the northern Chinese used the word no less frequently and only the Russians used more silent periods than did the Japanese.

A broader examination of the data exhibit reveals a more meaningful conclusion: The variation across cultures is greater when comparing linguistic aspects of language and nonverbal behaviours than when the verbal content of negotiations is considered. For example, there are great differences between Japanese and Brazilians.

Following are further descriptions of the distinctive aspects of each of the 14 cultural groups videotaped. Certainly conclusions about the individual cultures cannot be drawn from an analysis of only six businesses  of people in each culture, but the suggested cultural differences are worthwhile to consider briefly.


Consistent with most descriptions of Japanese negotiation behaviours, the results of this analysis, suggest their style of interaction is among the least aggressive (or most polite). Threats, commands, and warnings appear to be deemphasized in favour of the more positive promises, recommendations and commitments. Particularly indicative of their polite conversational style was their infrequent use of ‘no’ and ‘you’ and facial gazing, as well as more frequent silent periods.


Perhaps one of the more interesting aspects of the analysis is the contrast of the Asian styles of negotiations. Non-Asians often generalize about Asians: the findings demonstrate however, that this is a mistake. Korean negotiators used considerably more punishments and commands than did the Japanese. Koreans used the word no and interrupted more than three times as frequently as the Japanese. Moreover, no silent periods occurred between Korean negotiators.

China (Northern)

The behaviors of the negotiators from northern China (i.e. in and around Tianjin) were most remarkable in the emphasis on asking questions (34 per cent). Indeed, 70 per cent of the statements made by the Chinese negotiators were classified as information exchange tactics. Other aspects of their behaviour were quite similar to the Japanese particularly the use of ‘no’ and ‘you’ silent periods.


The behaviour of the business people in Taiwan was quite different from that in China and Japan but similar to that in Korea. The Chinese in Taiwan were exceptional in the time of facial gazing – on the average almost 20 of 30 minutes. They asked fewer questions and provided more information (self-disclosures) than did any of the other Asian groups.