Improve your Communication-Reduce your Frustration
We all have different ways of communicating based on our own cultural backgrounds so it is not surprising to find out that the Japanese generally communicate in a different way to us based on their own unique cultural and historical contexts. To not appreciate this or to remain ignorant of the cultural reasons behind it can not only cause frustrations and possible misunderstandings, it can in some cases destroy business relationships with the Japanese.
As a general overview, the Japanese communicate in a very indirect, non-verbal manner sometimes described as “reading the air” or “talking through the gut”. In fact, their language itself is very context driven and so much is implied instead of spoken you can sometimes feel you are talking in code or are not getting the answer you need to a question you have asked directly. All sorts of cultural reasons come into play; face saving and maintaining harmony are the ones that spring to mind immediately when trying to explain why certain communication issues arise. For example, a request may be described as “difficult” or even ignored instead of being refused to your face, a colleague may not flag up potentially serious issues that may disrupt the harmony unless ordered to, you may lose respect for not thinking of other people’s face when nothing has been said to make you think you are doing the wrong thing, it’s just that in Japan you are expected to have read the air and got the hint that you are on the wrong track or you may not be following the heirarchical and often slow chain of communications often expected in Japanese corporate culture.
Communication differences can even frustrate on more simple business matters-power point presentations in Japan are not supposed to entertain or be especially inter-active, they are to inform and give detail, the all important element needed by most Japanese businesses wanting to make decisions. The Japanese do not necessarily respect or trust the one who talks the most- in fact still in some cases, the one who can sit and listen patiently and take everything in is given more acknowledgement. I have written a previous blog about nemawashi (consensus building Japanese style) but this also highlights differences in communication cultures especially within decision making and meetings.
Of course you will always come across exceptions to the rule: the Japanese business person who is very direct and aggressive, the German business person who doesn’t flag up problems to save people’s face. Indeed there are circumstances in which the Japanese express intense dissatisfaction and directness. My main point is though: knowledge is the key. Look at your own communication styles, look at the styles of the culture you are wanting to do business with and see if there are any modifications that can be made. If not, at least be aware if the pitfalls, why they have arisen and deal with them patiently and wisely.
This article highlights the presentation style differences
This article is a fun one about Japanese style communication.