I recently attended a seminar about Opportunities for Japanese businesses in the infrastructure of the UK. After presentations from experts in the field, the question was posed, “Why did some Japanese companies pull out of this sector in the UK in the last 10 years?” Considering that most of the audience were Japanese, it was very candid of the presenters, who had hands on experience in these ventures, to say that it was down to a perceived lack of trust from the Japanese side. In such a “local” industry as construction, it was felt that some of the Japanese investors did not harness that local capability and make it work to their advantage. This sparked a very interesting networking session, where many Japanese people spoke openly about this issue of trust that does impact on cross border communications and in some cases the success of business deals and retention of non-Japanese staff.
Establishing trust between cultures that have very different experiences of its very meaning will always be difficult. Japan has, through its history and economic necessity, built up many layers of seemingly close-knit and impenetrable business relationships and structures that are not always transferable on a global stage or understandable to less group orientated societies. Their complex system of consensual decision making and hierarchy, sense of belonging to the workplace and need for keeping certain relationships intact have all resulted in certain behaviours including a deep need for detail, a much longer term view to doing business and a fair amount of caution when it comes to forming new relationships. These deeply ingrained behaviours can, when not adapted to suit other cultural mindsets, come across as frustrating, micromanaging, distrustful and alienating.
In my work, I advise both British and Japanese companies on how to build up relationships and create a culture of confidence to avoid such misunderstandings. I myself work very hard to develop long-term relationships within the Japanese business community. However, I am not immune to the frustrations of it and know that it is still a challenge for them not to operate from a Japanese cultural mindset even when faced with their current Globalisation Imperative. I do believe though that developing an understanding of the motivations of the other culture and making adaptations where necessary really does go a long way to build up trusting & successful relationships.