Anyone having watched the brilliant Peter Kay’s ‘Car Share’ series will have seen a very interesting parody of Japan related misconceptions featuring ridiculous attempts at speaking Japanese and comments such as: “Sushi isn’t fish. It’s wrestling!” The Japanese should take heart-whilst being lambasted for their poor levels of English on a global stage, our attempts at speaking foreign languages sometimes leaves much to be desired. What Peter Kay does, though, is poke fun at a level of cultural ignorance that does exist on various levels.
Some of this can often be broken down by exposure to other cultures and an open-minded attitude. When I went out to Japan, there were many misconceptions there of British culture and the same vice versa in the UK. In my work now, I play a part in breaking them down within UK-Japanese business ventures.
In a corporate setting, the obvious misconceptions are not always the ones that cause the most misunderstandings. In preparation for a recent seminar on Global Leaders, I read that the biggest problem in cross-cultural negotiations is the in-built assumption that everyone else thinks the same way as you do. They may not agree with you but they are still working from the same premises.
This comes as no surprise as we often find it difficult to see outside of ourselves and accept other opinions never mind recognise alternative methods of communication that stem from different cultural contexts. Maybe this is why some people are unwilling to explore the cultural elements that affect crucial aspects of International Business. Some people go on business trips abroad and ex-pats embark upon international assignments with great business plans but little more than basic etiquette & travel advice. They do not explore the cultural contexts that affect how their counterparts build up trust, form relationships, negotiate, make decisions, give feedback etc. Upon finding that these are in some cases vastly different, it is possible with time to learn through mistakes.
However this is not an easy process. I know from my own initial ex-pat experience in Japan that the tendency not to look outside of one’s own cultural lense can result in feelings of frustration and alienation and wondering why those in a culture dissimilar to theirs can’t just do things the “right way”.
With the right knowledge, support & adaptations, it becomes so much easier to break down any misconceptions and reach a much deeper level of understanding that will only enrich your business experience. Let’s start with what sushi actually is……