Executives in most developed countries speak at least some English. But you might still face cultural and linguistic obstacles.
Consider the case of American business owners who travel to Tokyo to meet with Japanese executives to explore a possible joint venture. After a series of negotiations, the Americans get their counterparts to agree to terms.
When the Americans return to the United States, they instruct their attorney to draft a contract to send to Tokyo to finalize the deal. But when the Japanese receive the contract, they refuse to sign and try to renegotiate the terms.
The Americans are livid and kill the potential partnership. As it turns out, however, the Japanese never agreed to all aspects of the original deal. They said yes to indicate they understood the issues under discussion, not that they approved the specific terms.
If you’re negotiating with Japanese executives, for example, recruit at least one experienced businessperson who has worked in Japan for many years.
Hire a translator and conduct sensitive discussions in your counterparts’ native tongue.
Research cultural mores before you enter into high-stakes negotiation. In some cultures, legal prohibitions or social stigmas can affect how teams relate to each other. As long as you appreciate the subtle interplay among individuals across cultures, you gain an advantage in forging ties and avoiding costly misunderstanding.
— Adapted from The Power of One, Kathleen Brush.