Where two principles really do meet which cannot be reconciled with one another, then each man declares the other a fool and a heretic.

- Ludwig Wittgenstein, On Certainty -


Negotiation, “an interaction and process between entities who compromise to agree on matters of mutual interest, while optimizing their individual utilities”, has a particular relevance in the business world: it’s a form of interpersonal communication, a problem-solving process, a dialogue between parties intended to reach an agreement while trying to gain an advantage for themselves.

Intercultural negotiation can be challenging for a variety of reasons, as negotiators from different societies may pursue different goals (some people - e.g., members of an Anglo-American culture - may view a business negotiation as a prelude to a “done deal”, while for others - e.g., members of an East Asian or South Asian culture - it may represent the beginning of a relationship that is expected to develop gradually over time), enter the negotiation process with a different attitude (collaborative vs confrontational), adopt a different communication style (indirect vs direct communication) and a different approach to time-management (for members of a monochronic culture “time is money” and negotiations tend therefore to be quick and efficient, while for members of a polychronic culture the development of a solid relationship is usually more important than time commitments and deadlines), may be more or less inclined to take risks.

Concerning face/honor/dignity cultures - object of a previous article - we can summarize the main differences in the negotiation processes as follows:

Dignity/guilt cultures (Anglo, Germanic Europe, Nordic Europe clusters).


These cultures value individualism, social equality, achievement, autonomy, and independence: one’s self-worth is intrinsic and self-determined (“dignity is the conviction that each individual at birth possesses an intrinsic value at least theoretically equal to that of every other person” - Ayers), not linked to social status and not dependent on collective expectations. People tend to approach negotiations rationally, analytically, and strategically, also thanks to strong laws and regulations (dignity cultures are typically low-context: reliance on written communication is usually high, contracts tend to be long and detailed). Strong emotions and/or aggression are not typical of negotiation in dignity cultures, as people are not afraid of losing face or social status.

Face/shame cultures (Confucian-Asia cluster).

Face has been defined as the “respectability and/or deference which a person can claim for himself from others, by virtue of the relative position he occupies in his social network and the degree to which he is judged to have functioned adequately in that position as well as acceptably in his general conduct” (Ho).

These cultures are collectivist, hierarchical, and they value cooperation, harmony, and consensus. Self-worth is society based and dependent on people’s ability to fulfil expected social roles (respectability of the person is earned and granted by others. Unlike honor, face cannot be claimed). Direct confrontation, open disagreement and displays of strong emotions are frowned upon, negotiators are more likely to be cooperative than competitive;

Honor cultures (Middle East, Latin America, South Asia, Latin Europe clusters).

These cultures are usually hierarchical and defined by collectivist values (in-group collectivism) and strong family ties: one’s behavior reflects on close others, and vice-versa. Social status and reputation matter, self-worth is society based (“Honor is the value of a person in his own eyes, but also in the eyes of his society. It is his estimation of his own worth, his claim to pride, but it is also the acknowledgement of that claim . . . his right to pride” - Pitt-Rivers), and honor can be attained by adhering to established honor codes.

People may have assertive and emotional responses to offences and slights (in honor cultures, insults are a way to determine who can do what to whom).

A competitive attitude is somewhat expected, negotiations require the ability to build trust and to manage conflict (whether someone will adopt a cooperative or competitive approach does largely depend on whether their reputation is threatened/questioned


Within- and between-culture variation: Individual differences and the cultural logics of honor, face, and dignity cultures


(Source: Within- and between-culture variation: Individual differences and the cultural logics of honor, face, and dignity cultures)


With regard to the origins of these three cultural prototypes, research (Cohen et al.; Flannery) claims that:

- dignity cultures developed in agricultural regions with low population density: availability of farmland and abundant resources made it possible for people to focus on individual pursuits instead of collective ones, while market exchanges systems were implemented to trade excess food;


dignity cultures developed in agricultural regions with low population density


- face cultures developed in agricultural regions with high population density, a factor that required collective efforts and a centralized (hierarchical) system of food production;


face cultures developed in agricultural regions with high population density


- honor cultures developed in regions with herding economies and low population density. In environments where poaching posed a concrete threat to one’s wealth, and in the absence of a strong central authority that could offer protection and support to citizens, individuals were expected to protect themselves, their families, and their belongings (“Cultural anthropologists have observed that herding cultures the world over tend to be more approving of certain forms of violence. Herdsmen must be willing to use force to protect themselves and their property when law enforcement is inadequate and when one's wealth can be rustled away. The settlers of the South came primarily from herding economies on the fringes of Britain, where lawlessness, instability, political upheaval, and clan rule had been present for centuries The people from the border country of Britain were forced to be self-reliant in their pursuit of justice, and they brought with them this tradition as they settled the lawless frontier South”).


honor cultures developed in regions with herding economies and low population density



In light of the above, it might be easy to understand why cross-cultural negotiations can be problematic, especially when western negotiators are involved: as previously highlighted in a post about ethnocentrism, “96% of psychological samples come from countries with only 12% of the world’s population”, which means that western negotiators may be unable to fully understand the need of honor- and face cultures for external recognition, or their focus on the preservation of collective self-worth.

For further info on this particular topic, articles on face/shame cultures are available at the following links:

II/II Why Do We Work So Hard? Introduction to Guilt and Shame Cultures

Giving and Losing Face: Honour, Social Reputation, and Networking in Asian Countries

I/II Social Connections, Harmony, Consensus: Confucian Beliefs and Business Culture in China Japan and Korea

II/II National Culture: International Business Strategy and Common Misunderstandings Between The East and The West

Social and Business Connections in China: An Insider's Perspective On Guanxi

To stay updated on future articles on dignity (guilt) and honor cultures, please consider subscribing to Mudita’s newsletter.



- Aslani, Soroush & Ramirez-Marin, Jimena & Brett, Jeanne & Yao, Jingjing & Semnani-Azad, Zhaleh & Zhang, Zhi-Xue & Tinsley, Catherine & Weingart, Laurie & Adair, Wendi. (2016). “Dignity, face, and honor cultures: A study of negotiation strategy and outcomes in three cultures”. Journal of Organizational Behavior. 37. n/a-n/a. 10.1002/job.2095.

- Ayers, Edward L. 1984. “Vengeance and Justice: Crime and Punishment in the 19th-Century American South”. New York: Oxford University Press

- Bin Muhamad Adnan, Muhamad Hariz & Hassan, Mohd Fadzil & Aziz, Associate Professor Dr Izzatdin & Paputungan, Irving. (2016). “Protocols for agent-based autonomous negotiations: A review”. 622-626. 10.1109/ICCOINS.2016.7783287.

- Cohen, D., Nisbett, R.E., Bowdle, B.F., and Schwarz, N. (1996). “Insult, aggression, and the southern culture of honor: An ‘experimental ethnography’.”. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 70(5), 945–960 - http://hdl.handle.net/2027.42/92155

- Flannery, K.V. (1972). “The cultural evolution of civilizations”. Annual Review of Ecology and Systematics, 3, 399–426 - https://doi.org/10.1146/annurev.es.03.110172.002151

- Fosse, Sebastien & Ogliastri, Enrique & Rendon, María. (2017). “When Dignity and Honor Cultures Negotiate: Finding Common Ground”. Negotiation and Conflict Management Research. 10. 10.1111/ncmr.12103.

- Friedrichs, J. (2016). “An intercultural theory of international relations: How self-worth underlies politics among nations”. International Theory, 8(1), 63-96. doi: 10.1017/S1752971915000202

- Henrich J, Heine SJ, Norenzayan A. “The weirdest people in the world?”. Behav Brain Sci. 2010 Jun;33(2-3):61-83; discussion 83-135. doi: 10.1017/S0140525X0999152X. Epub 2010 Jun 15. PMID: 20550733

- Ho, D. (1976). “On the Concept of Face”. American Journal of Sociology, 81(4), 867-884. http://www.jstor.org/stable/2777600

- Leung, Angela K.-Y., & Cohen, Dov. (2011). “Within- and between-culture variation: Individual differences and the cultural logics of honor, face, and dignity cultures”. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 100(3), 507-526 - https://ink.library.smu.edu.sg/soss_research/1026

- Pitt-Rivers, J. (1966). “Honor and social status”. In J. G. Peristiany (Ed.), “Honour and shame: The values of Mediterranean society” (pp. 19-77). London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson

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