Bridging social distance in inter‐cultural negotiations: “you” and the bi‐cultural negotiator

Mary C. Kern (Zicklin School of Business, Baruch College, New York, New York, USA)
Sujin Lee (Department of Management Science, KAIST, Daejeon, South Korea)
Zeynep G. Aytug (Zicklin School of Business, Baruch College, New York, New York, USA)
Jeanne M. Brett (Kellogg School of Management, Northwestern University, Evanston, Illinois, USA)

International Journal of Conflict Management

ISSN: 1044-4068

Publication date: 20 April 2012



In this study of Korean and US negotiators, the authors aim to demonstrate limits on the presumption that inter‐cultural negotiations are doomed to generate low joint gains.


In a laboratory study with 45 bi‐cultural Korean students and 47 mono‐cultural American students, the authors created a total of 16 US‐US, 15 Korean‐Korean, and 15 US‐Korean dyads. The authors audio‐recorded their negotiation conversations and analyzed the content of the negotiation transcripts. The authors focused on the use of pronouns and coded how they were used and the impact this use had on the outcomes of the intra‐ and inter‐cultural negotiations.


Results show that inter‐cultural dyads generate higher joint gains than Korean or US intra‐cultural dyads. The explanation based on social awareness and social distance theorizing shows that inter‐cultural negotiators, one of whom is bi‐cultural, who use language, especially the pronoun “you” to close social distance, achieve higher joint gains than intra‐cultural negotiators who do not.

Research limitations/implications

The authors conclude that the language people use in social interaction, especially pronouns, is an indicator of social awareness and signals attempts to close social distance.


This research demonstrates that the way negotiators use language predicts their economic outcomes.



Kern, M., Lee, S., Aytug, Z. and Brett, J. (2012), "Bridging social distance in inter‐cultural negotiations: “you” and the bi‐cultural negotiator", International Journal of Conflict Management, Vol. 23 No. 2, pp. 173-191.

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Copyright © 2012, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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