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Zhenzhong MaUnderstanding cultural differences can be key in international negotiations, says business professor Zhenzhong Ma.

Navigating international businesses? It’s all in how you see things

UWindsor researcher Zhenzhong Ma is studying how cultural intelligence—the knowledge and capability to adapt to various new cultural practices—can help people from different cultural backgrounds successfully negotiate business deals.

Dr. Ma, business professor and director of Odette’s Centre for Asia-Pacific Studies, recently published the article The Importance of Cultural Intelligence in Negotiation in the journal International Innovation: Disseminating Science, Research and Technology.

The research, he says, is about understanding cultural differences and using that knowledge to train others so they can be successful in business negotiations.

“Cultural differences will always be there, so we must learn how to deal with them,” says Ma. “When you can ingratiate yourself into a culture and you understand their rules, their customs, and their norms, you become just like a local in that new culture, and this can be learned.”

Ma says business negotiators must be trained in cultural differences because during these negotiations they may potentially misinterpret body language, communication techniques, or even gift offerings, which could potentially lead to the breakdown of business deals.

His research found that miscommunication is most common in transactions between low-context and high-context cultures. North America is considered a low-context culture, where communication and business is conducted in a more straightforward manner, without hidden meanings.

“But a single word in a high-context culture like Japan can have multiple meanings,” he says. “A yes could mean they want to stop negotiations or they don’t agree with something. There are so many different meanings when dealing with people from high-context cultures.”

The researcher is collecting data from both high- and low-context countries and will also look at how various personalities from different countries deal with negotiations.

“We want to see how different personalities, with differing views on their own cultural values, will behave during a negotiation process—this is all part of cultural intelligence,” says Ma. “For example, we found extroverts have an added advantage, because they are good at working with people.”

He says a seasoned negotiator who is also an extrovert may be unsuccessful in navigating the international market if they do not keep an open-mind about various cultural practices.

Cultural intelligence, he says, is also useful when communicating with new immigrants and refugees in order to ensure people are treated with respect they understand.

“I’ve done research on cross-cultural interactions and how to promote multiculturalism and harmony,” says Ma. “It’s about understanding and learning. While you don’t have to change yourself, you have to appreciate cultural differences.”

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