Personal Image Management and Superiority-Inferiority Conflict

© Article translated from the book “Negoziazione interculturale, comunicazione oltre le barriere culturali” (Intercultural Negotiation: Communication Beyond Cultural Barriers) copyright Dr. Daniele Trevisani Intercultural Negotiation Training and Coaching, published with the author’s permission. The Book’s rights are on sale and are available for any Publisher wishing to consider it for publication in English and other languages except for Italian and Arab whose rights are already sold and published. If you are interested in publishing the book in English, or any other language, or seek Intercultural Negotiation Training, Coaching, Mentoring and Consulting, please feel free to contact the author from the webstite www.danieletrevisani.com 

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In this article I will examine 2 important topics of intercultural negotiation communication: the first concerns the personal image management, while the second one is related to the superiority-inferiority conflict.

In every negotiation comparing respective statuses becomes inevitable. However, statuses are considered intra-cultural and not cross-cultural elements. We cannot assume that a person belonging to an “other” culture recognizes a status that comes from an unknown system.

Let’s observe this real dialogue between two colleagues at a restaurant, the first is Italian and the second one is American.

US negotiator: “In America my family is in the upper-middle class, we have a thousand square meter apartment in New York, but my neighbours built a mezzanine, doubling the airspace, if business goes well next season I can enter the upper class, and build a mezzanine too. My children have two PlayStations each, and I’m giving them a good education: for each hour of study I multiply x 2 their possibility of using the PlayStation, so if they study an hour I let them use the PlayStation for 2 hours, if they study 15 minutes I let them use it for only half an hour, timed.”

Italian’s response: “But do you listen to your children or do you time them?” (unspoken thought: you can also have a mezzanine of a square kilometre, but for me you are always an asshole)

We are not interested here in discussing who is wrong and if someone is wrong, but it is clear that the American interlocutor is exposing a particular image of himself. He is expressing a “face” and he is indirectly exposing which are the status rules he believes in, and his convictions on the most appropriate pedagogical methods. For this person having a mezzanine and two PlayStations is an indicator of status. It is also clear that the Italian interlocutor does not accept these rules and that he measures personal value differently.

A more or less conscious management of one’s “social face” is part of every negotiation. However, on an intercultural level, sending out unconscious messages and producing damages during negotiations can be very easy.

Principle 20 – Managing one’s own status and the interlocutor’s status; “face” games and intercultural impressions management

The success of intercultural negotiation depends on:

  • the ability to create an adequate status perception within the interlocutor’s judgment system;
  • the ability to create positive impressions (identity management and impression management);
  • the ability to acquire status and “face” without resorting to undue attack mechanisms, that can damage others’ “faces” (“face” aggression or personal image reduction, absolute avoidance of top-down approaches);

Alain de Botton reports this passage which shows us how even at the highest diplomatic and negotiating levels one can be very ignorant of what transversal messages are being emitted and of the degree of damage that can be produced by knowingly or not knowingly placing oneself in a top-down position.

In July 1959, US Vice President Richard Nixon went to Moscow to inaugurate an exhibition dedicated to his country’s technological and material innovations. The main attraction was a life-size copy of the house of the average worker, with carpet, TV in the living room, two bathrooms, central heating and a kitchen equipped with a washing machine, a dryer and a refrigerator.

During various press services, the Soviet press, somewhat irritated, declared that no American worker could have lived in such a luxurious house – ironically named “Taj Mahal” by Soviets – and defined it a means of propaganda.

Khrushchev maintained a rather sceptical attitude when he accompanied Nixon to the exhibition. As he observed the kitchen of the house in question, the Soviet leader pointed to an electric juicer and said that no sane person would ever think of buying certain “stupid items”. “Anything that can help a woman doing her work is useful,” Nixon replied. “We do not consider women as workers, as you do in the capitalist system,” Khrushchev retorted angrily.

Later that evening, Nixon was invited to give a speech at the Soviet television and used the occasion to illustrate the benefits of the American way of life. Cunningly, he did not begin to speak of democracy and human rights, but of money and material progress. He explained that, thanks to entrepreneurship and industrial activity, in a few centuries Western countries had managed to overcome poverty and famine, which were widespread until the mid-eighteenth century and still present in many areas of the world. Americans owned fifty-six million televisions and one hundred and fifty-three million radios according to what Nixon reported to Soviet viewers, many of whom did not even have a private bathroom or a kettle for making tea. About thirty-one million Americans lived in their own home, and an average family was able to buy nine clothes and fourteen pairs of shoes a year. In the United States, you could buy a house by choosing from a thousand different architectural styles, and o certain houses were often larger than a television studio. At that point Khrushchev, sitting next to Nixon and increasingly irritated, clenched his fists and exclaimed “Net, Net! “, while apparently adding in an undertone ” Eb ’tvoju babusku” (Go fuck your grandmother).

What clearly emerges from this passage is the (perhaps) unwitting offense to poverty that Nixon transfers to Russian people, placing himself in a top-down position, superior position vs. lower position.

For too many times, negotiators do not realize that they are performing an “abuse of dominant position” (displaying excessive superiority that damages others) or practicing a “presumption of dominance” (thinking of oneself in superior terms).

Communication reveals self- conceptions and relationship conceptions even though the participants do not want to reveal them.

Let’s see another example and observe some passages of this email:

Dr Trevisani

Two colleagues and I are close to retirement and after an intense activity as top managers in various multinationals we decided to create an external company. I ask you to be our consultant and to provide us with your valuable advices to help us build a successful company. Do your best to check if you can come to advise us in Turin. Anyway, send me a commercial offer because I must show it to my partners for approval. Please send me also your CV. I will present it to my two partners, so as to persuade them to approve your advice. This consultancy intervention must be done within January 2005.

Thank you in advance for your help.

signature

This message intercultural problem is of psycholinguistic type and it concerns the use of the imperative and the enormous quantity of presuppositions present.

Let’s look at some implicit assumptions linked to this message:

  1. some people believe that a commercial offer can be made without having analysed the problem and the necessary intervention times;
  2. Others think that the recipient will send his CV to someone he/she does not know, without being informed on how and for what purposes this CV will be used (it takes only a few seconds to write a writing a reason on an email, but the real motives can be different);
  3. There is also the assumption that the customer can dictate times and that it is the recipient, and not the writer, who must make the trip;
  4. It is taken for granted that the recipient wants to work for the sender and that he approves intentions and projects.

The apparently courteous message reveals a culture that is not exactly courteous.

In the Italian culture being in the “buyer” position is a strength and working for years in a multinational company makes the buyer acquire a strongest attitude of strength and superiority.

The sender actually expresses an aggressive multinational culture, which is based on the belief that a multinational can “rule the world”, a way of being consequently absorbed by its managerial education. However, the Italian culture is not unique, and we cannot think that the prototype of the multinational’s dominance over a consultant, or of a buyer over a possible seller, is accepted by everyone.

The ALM method culture believes that there must be a certain degree of values commonality ​​for a project to start.

We must always consider that our culture is not automatically the culture of others. The right strategy is therefore to avoid putting the counterpart in conditions of presumed inferiority or to assign automatic superiority.

"Intercultural Negotiation" by Daniele Trevisani

© Article translated from the book “Negoziazione interculturale, comunicazione oltre le barriere culturali” (Intercultural Negotiation: Communication Beyond Cultural Barriers) copyright Dr. Daniele Trevisani Intercultural Negotiation Training and Coaching, published with the author’s permission. The Book’s rights are on sale and are available for any Publisher wishing to consider it for publication in English and other languages except for Italian and Arab whose rights are already sold and published. If you are interested in publishing the book in English, or any other language, or seek Intercultural Negotiation Training, Coaching, Mentoring and Consulting, please feel free to contact the author from the webstite www.danieletrevisani.com 

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USA, an Interesting Melting Pot

Article written by Ginevra Bighini, www.interculturalnegotiation.wordpress.com; mentoring by Dr. Daniele Trevisani, www.studiotrevisani.com

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Today I would like to talk about USA and its incredible melting pot. Starting for US history, I will introduce the concept of melting pot, underling its pros and cons in the business field.

US Multicultural History

The United States are famous for the wide variety of cultures that live inside their borders. But how was this melting pot created? Let’s look at some interesting passages in the history of this country.

Before 1600 A.D. North America was inhabited by many indigenous peoples (Native Americans) with different identities, religions, beliefs and cultures, who lived in tribes. Thanks to the Atlantic Ocean, these people lived in their own world, apart from all other societies.

This period lasted only until the European colonization. In 1492 Christopher Columbus, financed by Spain, made the first of four voyages to the New World, landing in the Bahamas. From this point onward, European countries started a gradual colonization of North America. English, Spanish, French, Dutch, etc. moved to the new world in search of a new life of prosperity, each of them bringing his/her own personal culture. These many cultures got into contact with native Americans’ cultures, giving birth to a multicultural community.

Furthermore, many African slaves were forced to these areas, where their culture was added to the already existing cultural mix.

All these cultural differences brought improvements and conflicts, especially conflicts. Wars between Natives and Europeans, as well as fights among different European colonies, were quite frequent.

As we all well know, after years of inner and outer wars, USA became an independent nation in 1776, but being independent wasn’t enough to stop all conflicts derived from multiculturalism. In fact, from 1861 to 1865 America fought its Civil War, which began as a result of the unresolved controversy of the enslavement of black people and its disputed continuance.

Even though the loyalists of the Union won, putting an end to slavery, African American people had had to suffer abuse, violence, racism and racial laws for many years. Even now there are people, who are not able to accept other identities and cultures that refuse them without a concrete reason.

Before and after the two World Wars, the US welcomed a great number of immigrants from all the continents and what we have now, after years of cultural mixing and wars, is an incredible melting pot.

Melting Pot

In order to describe the concept of “melting pot” I’m going to use the perfectly summarised definition of Wikipedia:

The melting pot is a monocultural metaphor for a heterogeneous society becoming more homogeneous, the different elements “melting together” with a common culture; historically, it is often used to describe the cultural integration of immigrants to the United States. The exact term “melting pot” came into general usage in the United States after it was used as a metaphor describing a fusion of nationalities, cultures and ethnicities in the 1908 play of the same name by Israel Zangwill.” (1)

US melting pot is linked to cultural assimilation or Americanisation. This means that instead of maintaining cultural differences, USA politics prefer mixing them up, while creating a unique culture based on these multicultural features. This new unique culture represents the US identity.

But what are the pros and cons related to this attitude to multiculturality?

As we saw in US history, bringing culture together means generating innovative and original world views, as well as creating conflicts, misunderstandings and rejection. The same happens in business.

We live in a complex, interconnected world where diversity, shaped by globalization and technological advance, forms the fabric of modern society. In this era of globalization, diversity in the business environment is about more than gender, race and ethnicity. It now includes employees with diverse religious and political beliefs, education, socioeconomic backgrounds, sexual orientation, cultures and even disabilities.

Diversity in the workplace is an asset for both businesses and their employees, in its capacity to foster innovation, creativity and empathy in ways that homogeneous environments seldom do. Yet it takes careful nurturing and conscious orchestration to unleash the true potential of this invaluable asset. (2)

If these differences are not rightly managed, conflict is inevitable. Cultures will clash and business performances will be affected by this tense working atmosphere. For this reason, it is important to create a business environment that minimizes intercultural disharmony (3), while giving all employees the possibility to freely express their ideas and values, without prejudices.

To conclude, looking at the US history and at its melting pot, we can understand that without cultural awareness, there is no cultural respect. So, open your mind, feel free to express your own cultural identity, but be aware that your view of the world can be different from others and you have to accept it. Do not impose your ideas and opinions, just share them and be happy if others share their own personal cultures with you, because this cultural contact will enrich you and will give birth to a person able to see the world in many different ways, thus capable of finding original solutions to every problem.

(1) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Melting_pot#Melting_pot_and_cultural_pluralism

(2) https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2019/04/business-case-for-diversity-in-the-workplace/

(3) https://www.forbes.com/sites/hbsworkingknowledge/2013/12/09/how-cultural-conflict-undermines-workplace-creativity/

Article written by Ginevra Bighini, www.interculturalnegotiation.wordpress.com; mentoring by Dr. Daniele Trevisani, www.studiotrevisani.com

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Italian Stereotypes in Japan: Strength or Weakness?

Article written by Ginevra Bighini, www.interculturalnegotiation.wordpress.com; mentoring by Dr. Daniele Trevisani, www.studiotrevisani.com

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Being Italian in Japan is not always easy. There are many things so totally different from our own world, that we usually need time to adapt to everything, but when it is time to negotiate, time may not be enough. For this reason, knowing how Japan sees us is very useful. 

Let’s start with the image Japanese have of Italy. As you all well know, Italy is famous for mainly 3 things: 

  1. Food 
  2. Art (music included) 
  3. Fashion 

In Japan, if you ask someone on the street about Italy, the first thing he/she will talk to you about is probably food, like Pizza and Pasta. They are also interested in music, Opera Music in particular, and fashion. Some of them come to Italy to study cooking, design or opera singing and then they come back to Japan to open, for example, Italian restaurants, that are very popular all over the country. 

Another important issue that I would like to mention concerns the way in which this image was built and who helped these ideas of Italy grow in the minds of all Japanese.  

The person responsible for this is Girolamo Panzetta, a 50-year-old Italian, who decided to take advantage of the Italian stereotype in Japan to make lots of money. He is now a star in Japan, thanks to his lessons of elegance and manliness.  

We have to thankhim if Japanese see us, on one hand as carefree womanizers, and on the other hand as original and cheerful people. 

So, we can summarize Italians’ pros and cons from a Japanese perspective, as follows: 

  • happy-go-lucky 
  • friendly 
  • cheerful 
  • fashionable 
  • original 
  • disorganized 
  • unreliable 
  • careless 
  • sloppy 

Now that we have a general idea of what Japanese think of us, it is time to understand if all these adjectives can be a strength or a weakness during a negotiation. I don’t believe that being cheerful, original or fashionable can become a disadvantage in a negotiation, but maybe being considered unreliable, sloppy and careless can become a bother.  

The real strategy here is to convert a disadvantage in advantage. How? By working on first impressions. 

If we are aware that a Japanese can have some prejudices about us, because we are part of the Italian culture, then we must work very hard to demonstrate the opposite. For example, in order to destroy the image of a carefree and disorganized Italian, we can take part of all their meetings with a perfectly prepared documentation, focused and always on the ball. 

While overcoming these unfavourable stereotypes, we must strengthen the favourable ones. We must be kind, friendly, finding the most original solution to their problems, never stop smiling warmly. 

Japanese love Italy, but depending only on this love and admiration won’t work. To achieve success in an intercultural negotiation, where stereotypes and prejudices are what define us before, and sometimes also after, the first meeting, we need to be prepared. 

Being prepared means understanding that we are different, while trying to reduce the gap between our own culture and the culture of our interlocutor. In order to do so, it is necessary to highlight our positive attributes and break all negative images they could have about us. 

At the same time, it is fundamental to remember to learn more about the other culture, so as to destroy and rebuild our opinion of it. We cannot possibly think to create a cooperative dialogue if we do not start that same dialogue with an open mind. 

Cultural respect and cultural diversity awareness will always be the basis of an healthy and everlasting business relationship. 

Girolamo Panzetta

Article written by Ginevra Bighini, www.interculturalnegotiation.wordpress.com; mentoring by Dr. Daniele Trevisani, www.studiotrevisani.com

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