Working and Communicating with Japanese Organizations

Effective communication is an absolute necessity in business. But when dealing with business people who speak a different language and come from an entirely different culture, that is easier said than done. This is especially true when dealing with a language and culture as unique and complex as that of Japan. The history, culture, civility and traditions of Japan are intricately woven into the daily lives of its residents, and have great import on how they conduct business as well. It’s extremely important to be mindful, respectful and appreciative of Japanese culture and tradition when conducting business with companies based in that country. Effective communication, when it comes to working with the Japanese, is much more complicated than simply translating language. What follows are some important tips on how to properly conduct yourself when working with people from this distinguished country:

• The formal nature of Japan extends to their business apparel. The operative word here is conservative. Men should typically wear business suits, and women should do the same. If you’re a woman, avoid wearing heels that are too high and keep jewelry to a minimum.

• A business card holds great importance in Japanese society. In fact, Japanese people feel that their business cards are an important reflection of the individual. Remember than when you accept a business card from someone else, or when you offer your own to a Japanese coworker. Don’t simply glance at it and tuck it away in your pocket – as we would here in the US.
Remember its import, and treat it with the same respect as you do the person offering the card.

• Avoid the Western habit of talking too much during business meetings. Japanese people value silence and often interpret it as a sign of wisdom. Remember that formality in relationships with others is the norm within Japanese society, and that particularly holds true for new business relationships. And avoid asking personal questions. Japanese people value their privacy and would likely consider it rude if you were to ask about their personal lives. So when in doubt, hold your tongue.

• Never single out an individual; instead focus on the team. Japanese people are team-oriented to an extreme degree. In the US, we tend to be just the opposite. In fact, we would feel a great deal of pride in being singled out in a business meeting for doing a good job. In Japan, just the opposite is true. If you want to praise the efforts of your Japanese counterparts in a business meeting, recognize the group, not an individual.

• The Japanese have a tremendous amount of respect for their elders; and you should too. Older people are very much revered in Japan, and you should demonstrate your own reverence during business meetings by greeting senior business people first and offering your business card to the oldest member of the group before you do the same with others.

Of course, understanding the language – or at the very least, utilizing the services of a top-notch translator and/or interpreter – is absolutely crucial to successfully conducting business in Japan and with Japanese companies. But just as vital to effective communication is showing a respect and familiarity with Japanese culture. We’ve only begun to discuss it here, so do your homework beforehand. Learn about Japanese etiquette, not only in relation to business meetings, but also having to do with sharing meals and any other activities you anticipate joining in with your Japanese counterparts. There is a lot to learn, but once you do, you may be rewarded in ways far beyond simply succeeding in business. In fact, many people find Japanese culture and tradition to be absolutely charming and endearing. Chances are, you will too.