Author: Suchitra Chaudhary, PMP
“When we listen and celebrate what is both common and different, we become a wiser, more inclusive, and better organization” – Pat Wadors, Chief Talent Officer at Linkedin
I was roaming around a store in Japan, when I saw a child crying profusely. He seemed to have lost his mother in the store. I stopped and was about to ask him his mother’s name when I saw a woman rushing my way. With her half-terrified half-relieved looks, it didn’t take me much time to realise that she was the child’s mother. Holding her child’s hand, she bowed deeply and said, “Sorry. I am really sorry for all this!" I was somewhat taken aback, because “Sorry” was the last thing I had expected. Generally, in such a scenario, we expect a person to say “Thank you”.
After working in Japan for a long time, I gradually came to learn that it is implicit of their culture. In the above scenario, the woman was blaming herself for her carelessness and causing inconvenience to me and others, who were affected by the crying of her child. Therefore, out of embarrassment, she bowed several times and apologized.
I am of the belief that only those who understand culture of their customers, can forge a better path towards achieving higher customer satisfaction, which in turn translates into better business.
If you have Japanese people working in your team or you are working with a Japanese customer/vendor, then this article is for you!
Given below are two highly prominent cultural foundations observed in Japan, which are very different from the ones followed by those in Germany. Many other cultural aspects such as Honne and Tatemae (True feeling Vs Face displayed in public), Loyalty and Trust, Reluctance to say No, Concept of Wa (Harmony), Time-consuming decision-making, Non-verbal communication, are derived from these major cultural foundations.
- Group-oriented culture (Collectivism)
Japanese drive their identity from group affiliations. A ‘Group’ implies the family a person belongs to, his school, college and the working space. They respect the groups they are associated with, its opinions and decisions. The biggest example of this is, whenever a Japanese person introduces himself for the first time, he takes his company’s name first and then his family name. For example, if a person’s name is Shio Tanaka and he is working for Sony, then he will say, I am Sony’s Tanaka. Further, when a Japanese person hands over his business card to you, make sure to show respect to the business card by not keeping it in the back pocket of your trouser. Always keep them in the pocket of your shirt or if you are attending a meeting with him, then keep it in front of you on the table.
This is also one of the reasons Japanese people are so attached to their companies, that they spend their entire lifetime with one company and rarely switch jobs. Though, this trend is seeing a change of late.
- Vertical Society
Japan is a hierarchical-driven society. Hierarchy is driven by ranking, ranking is based on seniority, and seniority is decided based on one’s age. There are very strict rules that a Japanese person needs to follow to show respect to his senior, the foremost being using polite words.
If a consortium of Japanese comes to visit your office and you are confused which one is the senior most person, then you can take cues from the following:
- Senior most person sits farthest from the door of a meeting room
- He will hand over his business card first
- He drinks his tea first
- He speaks at the end of the meeting and speaks less
- It is fine if he snoozes in the middle of a meeting
So, Group Work and Respect for Seniority are the two most important aspects that drive the whole of Japan. But, this is not all. If you are really interested in doing brisk business with Japanese customer, you need to go out and make efforts to understand and learn a lot more about various aspects of the Land of Rising Sun that makes it so unique from other GEOs.