Socrates v. Confucius: What a Difference a Culture Makes–and How it Shapes East-West Negotiators
The Western (Socratic-based) Negotiator Lens:
Many negotiators from the West were raised in an individual-based environment, which is relatively “flat” compared to many collective-based “vertical” social structures. Strange from the perspective of many Confucian, collective-based societies, many parents from individual-based groups will indirectly, and often unknowingly, begin the informal negotiation training from a very early age. This reflects the Socratic approach to teaching, which is much more prevalent in individual-based societies than collective-based societies, and is reinforced by a barrage of assignments, which tests the ability to question, such as the requirement to write critical essays. Such tasks require the person (and future negotiator) to think independently, question assumptions, and then come to a personal conclusion based on the evidence. In other words, a person in this type of Socratic-based “flat” environment reinforces the use of rationality over emotion.
The Asian (Confucian-based) Negotiator Lens:
in many collective-based negotiation settings, this rationale approach is at times seen as a cold, calculating and detached process, counter to their basic instincts and training. In stark contrast, the typical collective-based individual is raised by parents typically (but not always) set in a strict vertically based structure, in which dominant parent figures effectively lay down the “law of the land” in the household. The collective-based future negotiator, as a young person, is usually told, not asked, what to do. This goes from small things like what to eat, to bigger-ticket items like what to study, who to date, and when to go home. If the child in such Confucian-based structure questions what the parent says, this is interpreted as a very egregious act.
Such an act is viewed as one of the more shameful in a collective-based society, in which obedience and trust is a virtue, while being branded with a betrayal mark is tantamount to a “scarlet letter” and later societal banishment (known in Korean society as wangda (왕따) and in Japanese society as murahachibu). The collective-based Confucius friendship structure is primarily also a top-down, command-and-control structure based on those with seniority (선배, sunbae in Korean, senpai in Japanese) and those who are junior (후배, hubae in Korean, kohai in Japanese). The only rare exception to the general rule is with the small band of friends in the same class year (동갑, dong-gahp in Korean). In short, the collective-based social, academic, and working structures share one commonality – they are all vertically-based top-down operating structures. This is a very important missing factor in terms of why many collective-based groups are not instinctual negotiators. For this reason, yes of course, the collective-based negotiators can negotiate, but they find it unusual and awkward, and often do it grudgingly.
This blog is a partial excerpt from the published academic article, Mitigating Partisan Perceptions between Individual and Collective-based Groups (by Jasper Kim, International Studies Review, 2009)