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Lessons to Sick Leave Essay

NOTE: This material is also available as a role-play (Exercise 29, Sick Leave). Instructors are advised to use either the role-play or the case, but not both because they overlap considerably. Choosing whether to use the role-play or case materials depends on your goals for the class and the level of sophistication and cross-cultural experience of the students. For homogeneous classes with little previous cross-cultural experience, one option is to use the case to teach the cross-cultural nuances of American-Japanese negotiations and to follow this with Exercise 28 (500 English Sentences), a role-play with many similar lessons to Sick Leave.


This case is written from the perspective of Kelly, a 22 year old Canadian Assistant English teacher working in Japan. The root of the conflict in this case is a deep cross-cultural misunderstanding that has transformed into a much larger incident involving important intangible factors such as saving face and maintaining principles. Specific learning objectives include:

1. To understand how two parties have framed a conflict very differently in a cross-cultural setting.
2. To explore the differences between positions and interests in a cross-cultural negotiation.
3. To understand a conflict where the intangible factors are much more important than the tangible factors.

Changes from 4th Edition

There are no substantive changes from the Fourth Edition.

Operational Needs

Time Required 45-60 minutes for the case discussion.

Special Materials None.

Recommended Reading Assignments to Accompany This Case

Reader: 5.1 (Brett), 5.2 (Salacuse), 5.3 (Senger), 5.4 (Koh).

Text: Chapter 16

Case Overview

On the surface, this case is very straightforward. Kelly, a 22 year old Canadian working as an Assistant English teacher in Japan, is sick with the flu, misses 2 days of work, and wants to claim these as legitimate sick days as described in her contract. Her supervisor, Mr. Higashi, insists that she take these days as part of her paid vacation days because that is the Japanese way. The sick leave conflict is symptomatic, however, of a much deeper conflict that Kelly and the other Assistant English teachers have with Mr. Higashi and the other Japanese English teachers. Dynamics underlying this conflict include face saving, adapting to a different culture, the meaning of contracts in different cultures, and the influence of reference groups on behavior.

Background Preparation

Students and the instructor should be familiar with cultural and business differences between Japan and North America. Dated, yet still appropriate, is Howard Van Zandt’s How to Negotiate in Japan, from the Harvard Business Review of Nov/Dec 1970, more current is Smart Bargaining by John Graham and Yoshihiro Sano, The Influence of Japanese Culture on Business Relationships and Negotiations by Naoko Oikawa and John Tanner Jr., International Dimensions of Organizational Behavior, chapter on Negotiating with Foreigners by Nancy J. Adler, and Cultural Approaches to Negotiations: Understanding the Japanese by Brian Hawrysh and Judith Zaichkowsky.

Teaching Strategy

Kelly frames this negotiation as a right to have the sick leave, which is written into her contract. Mr. Higashi frames this negotiation much broader and wants Kelly to “fit in” at work and to be treated the same as Japanese workers. This situation is very representative of the types of conflict that occur in cross-cultural negotiations between Americans (rights based, contract as enforceable) and Japanese (relationship based, contract as beginning).

On the surface, this is a very straightforward situation: will Kelly get her contractually guaranteed sick leave benefits or not? The cultural differences, however, make this a high stakes negotiation for both parties, in which the importance of the intangible factors far outweighs that of the tangible factors.

Proceed by using the following questions to discuss the case:

1. What should Kelly do? Should she call CLAIR, or discuss this further with Mr. Higashi? 2. What is this dispute about for Kelly? For Mr. Higashi? In these types of conflicts is a compromise possible? 3. What are the tangible factors in this situation? What are the intangible factors in the negotiation? Is saving face more important to Kelly or Mr. Higashi? Why? Which are more important, the tangible or intangible factors? Is this true for both Kelly and Mr. Higashi?

The discussion should conclude with a good summary about Japanese and North American negotiation styles and culture. When negotiating in Japan it is often important to give in for the sake of peace and harmony, or relationships may be harmed beyond repair. Deciding how to negotiate cross-culturally remains a challenge for every negotiator that negotiates across a border. One of the best pieces discussing this was written by Stephen Weiss (“Negotiating With ‘Romans’: A Range of Culturally-Responsive Strategies,” Sloan Management Review, 35, No. 1, pp. 51-61; No. 2, pp. 1-16) and a summary of this work makes a nice conclusion to the class.

Final Note

Although this exercise has been modified somewhat it is based on an actual situation that occurred in Japan (names and location have been changed). In the actual incident, “Kelly” received her sick leave but the relationship was seriously harmed and work became more and more uncomfortable. Kelly decided not to renew her contract, and left Japan at the end of the school year.

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