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  • Archive for September, 2014

    East-West Negotiation Strategies: Dealing with Seniority Status

    September 18th, 2014  by  Asia-Pacific Global Research Group - Jasper Kim

    Seniority is a near universal norm. Those who are older in age are generally given more deference and respect by those who are less senior and younger. So how is this different in Confucian cultures? Probably it’s the degree of deference and respect given to elders, which typically goes much beyond many Western “Socratic” cultures.
    Within the Confucian Code, age is a valuable poker chip. It may well surpass all other factors in determining who is in the more senior bargaining position. Conversely, those who appear young are generally viewed as inexperienced and more of a pupil than a master. This is in stark contrast to many Western cultures where youth is viewed as beneficial since it may provide a new perspective (albeit at the cost of lengthier experience).
    A problem occurs to a mainframe computer system in Japan. The person who is best positioned to understand and solve the problem is a relatively junior worker from California who has three years of experience. Although young, he knows the mainframe computer as well as anyone in the firm. So he is sent to Tokyo the next day. Upon his arrival, he notices right away that the reception he receives at the Japanese firm is less than friendly. Why would this be the case, he asks himself. After all, he is there to help the company solve the problem.
    Any guesses? It turns out that it was a Confucian Code gap in terms of how to solve the problem. Both sides certainly shared the same goal of solving the mainframe computer problem. But the “Socrates v. Confucius” invisible non-meeting of the minds occurred because of differences in the process of how to solve the problem, specifically, who should be sent to solve the problem.
    For the Socratic side, it believed it did the right thing by sending the most qualified person (based on knowledge, not on age). But for the Confucian side, it also believed it did the right thing by expecting an experienced person to do the job (which under the Confucian Code is generally thought of as a person with many years of experience).
    Was one side intentionally acting in bad faith leading to this gap? Absolutely not. Both acted reasonably and did in the right thing according to each sides’ respective view based on two separate cultures–which can be akin as operating systems in a smartphone–both trying to get the job done but in different approaches.
    Ideally, a person who appears in form to be senior, while also having a good working knowledge of the issue at hand would be the ideal situation. But if this isn’t possible, then spending slightly more on two people (or similar team composition) with a person who understands a particular issue in great detail along with a person with less detailed knowledge but appearing more senior could be the next best thing.

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