For 15 years, John L. Graham has studied American business practices and compared them to those in Asia. His findings: Americans tend to be too blabby, too impatient and too informal for Asian tastes.
Graham, a professor of marketing and international business at UC Irvine, first examined differences between Americans and Japanese for a doctoral dissertation in 1976. Since then, Graham has studied Korea, China, Taiwan and Hong Kong as well as a number of European and Latin American nations.
The author of "Smart Bargaining: Doing Business With the Japanese," he is currently working on a second book about negotiating styles in different countries. Graham also advises several private firms, including Ford Motor Co. and AT&T.
Here are his 10 Tips for Doing Business in Asia:
1 Keep your mouth shut. The main purpose of business negotiations is to gather information. But blabby Americans can't stand silence, so they often fail to give their Asian partners sufficient time to formulate answers or finish sentences. As a result, information tends to flow in a one-way direction, from the American to the Asian. Graham calls this the single biggest problem for Americans in Asia.
2 Take off your wristwatch. Literally. Americans look at their watches too often, and all the foreigners know it. "The quickest way to get a concession out of Americans is to make them wait," Graham says. Before leaving for Asia, American executives should get authority from U.S. headquarters to spend enough time to get the job done, he says.
3 Spend time on people. Personal relations are more important in Asia. Partly that's because Asians tend to resolve business conflicts privately between partners, while Americans hash them out in court. "They spend money on business entertainment, we spend money on attorneys," Graham says. Spend time on entertainment and wait for your Asian partner to broach business. In Hong Kong, it might take one meeting. In Japan, it could take five.
4 Learn some of the language. It helps not only in social situations but also in business. For instance, Americans tend to get upset when Asians begin to talk among themselves in their native tongues. But usually that happens over a translation problem or when they begin to break rank and argue among themselves over contract terms. That can be a positive sign for the U.S. side, but most Americans don't know it because they can't understand the lingo.
5 Expect formality and hierarchy. Although Americans tend to think informality relaxes people, it actually can upset Asians. Americans may prefer first names, but "in Japan, they go by Suzuki- san ," he said. Exchanging business cards helps the Asian properly fit you into a hierarchy. Rituals, such as signing ceremonies, are important to Asians.
6 Expect a different problem-solving process. Americans break up complex problems and solve the pieces sequentially: price, delivery, service, warranty. Asians tend to talk about all the issues at once. Americans view the Asian way as disorganized and find it difficult to measure progress when issues aren't settled one by one. But the Asian holistic approach is rooted deeply in culture and even language: Chinese and Japanese words are expressed as pictures, whereas English is a sequence of letters.
7 Trust your local staff. American representatives in foreign countries should be trusted as the eyes and ears for U.S. headquarters. But generally, the more they come to understand the foreign country, the more mistrusted they are by the home office. Graham advises the home office to take the advice of its U.S. representatives--and foreign employees--more seriously.
8 Don't generalize about Asia. There are wide differences among individual Asian countries. For instance, Graham says, the Japanese don't get angry or show emotion during negotiations, while the Koreans can and frequently do.
9 Be sensitive to differences within cultures. For instance, Tokyo-based Nissan is more cosmopolitan than Hiroshima-based Mazda, he says. Japanese bankers are more traditional, and retailers are more entrepreneurial.
10 Don't overlook women and minorities. Contrary to folklore that women or minorities can hurt a business presentation in Asia, Graham says experience shows that isn't necessarily true. In fact, some argue that women are more effective than men because they are more attuned to the all-important personal relationships. Graham said the issue of gender should be irrelevant.