The Pitfalls of Logic in Dealing with Foreign Cultures!

Boyé Lafayette De Mente

BEIJING–Americans endeavoring to negotiate business and political deals abroad often face a barrier that is so subtle, so unexpected, that they do not know how to deal with it.

     They typically spend an inordinate amount of time and energy in an effort to explain their goals and methods and get their foreign counterparts to understand and accept them, with little or no success.

    On these occasions the automatic response of most Americans is to assume that their counterparts don’t really understand the points they are making, and begin repeating themselves. In these repeated efforts some talk a little louder; others assume it is a language problem and attempt to break their presentations down into simpler terms. Many end up watering down their original objectives in order to get a deal.

     While the degree of the impasse and the level of frustration that develops in typical Americans various with how internationalized or Americanized their foreign counterparts have become there is almost always resistance on some level that the American side cannot fathom or readily accept.

     This situation arises from the fact that American businesspeople and diplomats pride themselves on being fact-oriented and logical in their thinking, and their presentations and negotiations are reflections of this deeply embedded mindset.

     In Asian, Hispanic and some other societies it is generally not hard facts and unadulterated logic that carry the day. It is human relations and feelings—which in the American mindset can be both irrational and shortsighted.

     For the most part, Asians, Hispanics and others are motivated by a variety of cultural obligations that must be met before they can whole heartedly accept and pursue projects presented to them.

     In fact, it is not too much of a stretch to say that Asians and Hispanics are allergic to pure American style logic. Those who do accept propositions and responsibilities that they do not like do so by rationalizing that it is better to have a bad bargain [from their viewpoint] than no bargain.

    And generally, especially in Asia, there is the unspoken intent to take advantage of foreign relationships and technology by gradually subverting them to conform to their own views and needs.

     It is therefore imperative that Americans and others who are driven by their own facts and logic to make a serious effort to discover how and why their potential partners think and behave the way they do.

    In other words, liuoji (luu-oh-jee) is Chinese logic; ronri (rone-ree) is Japanese logic; nolli (nohl-lee) is Korean logic, and so on, and they are defined by the cultures in which they developed—not the American definition of the term.


Boyé Lafayette De Mente has been involved with Asia since the late 1940s as a member of a U.S. intelligence agency, journalist and editor. He is a graduate of Jōchi University in Tokyo, Japan and Thunderbird School of Global Management in Glendale, Arizona, USA. In addition to books on the business practices, social behavior and languages of China, Japan, Korea and Mexico he has written extensively about the moral collapse of the U.S. along with books on his home state of Arizona. To see a full list of his books go to: Recent books include: CHINA Understanding & Dealing with the Chinese Way of Doing Business; JAPAN Understanding & Dealing with the NEW Japanese Way of Doing Business; AMERICA’S FAMOUS HOPI INDIANS; ARIZONA’S LORDS OF THE LAND [the Navajos] and SPEAK JAPANESE TODAY – A Little Language Goes a Long Way!