Japanese Corporate Culture – Communication Etiquette

Communication Etiquette in Japanese Business Settings

At the negotiating table, Japanese corporate culture demanded a fairly specific and rigid business protocol that was expected to be followed by both domestic business partners and foreign or expatriate partners from abroad. The communication etiquette followed the idea of tatemae, or surface communication, in which the group of business people engages in pleasantries and small talk.

Another concept utilized in business meetings and at the negotiating table was that of under-communication, in which the fellow Japanese business people were generally comfortable with less talk.

Tatemae also gives testimony to the aesthetic aspects of social behavior. For instance, the Japanese business people often look at external appearance and how one expresses his or herself as an utmost important characteristic of that individual. There is also a ritual of exchanging pleasantries and preserving group harmony.

Remember, in Japan, there is a strong emphasis on collectivism in which the group needs are placed at a higher level of importance than that of one’s individual needs. In short, the idea of Japanese business communication etiquette is to not rush into the underlying business agenda.

Another manifestation of tatemae is that of meishi. Meishi is the exchange of business cards. Unlike in the West, in which this is an informal process, Japan places great emphasis on this ritual and this act has great cultural significance as well as an important strategic place in Japanese business communication. Meishi allows an individual to identify the position and rank of the cardholder within an organization. It is a form of probing for status, ranking and affiliation. The Japanese carefully examines a card for signals that will allow him or her to communicate effectively with that person. The exchange is followed by a short bow, out of respect.When meeting a team of employees and after completing meishi, it is customary to introduce the staff from the most junior to the most senior-level staff. This is contrary to customs of the West, in which typically the most senior staff member is introduced first. As evidence of the importance of meishi, it is thought in Japan to be unthinkable and inexcusable for one to run out of business cards. Finally, mid-level managers from large respectable firms like Fuji-Xerox Corporation or International Business Machines (IBM) are seen as having higher status than equivalently-ranked managers at smaller and lesser-known firms.

One final aspect of communication etiquette in Japan is the idea of ningensei, or human being-ness. The corporate protocol in Japan is to place a high importance on trust, empathy, listening skills and communication. Ningensei places the highest priority on human being-ness, or getting to know colleagues and partners on more than just a superficial level. This is accomplished through small-talk and social encounters and is seen as the human side of business dealings. When Western associates are in Japan conducting business, Japanese business people seek to establish wa, or group harmony, and strive to find the honne, or true intentions, of Western associates.

Ningensei is also about the Japanese’s expressed interest in cultivating personal relationships in both social and business settings. This concept is tied in with tatemae, or the idea that business transactions are superficial. At negotiating tables or at restaurants and cabarets, Japanese business people look for cues in their guests’ body language, facial expressions and nuances in their tone of voice. In short, they study the psychological aspects of those with whom they are doing business. Ningensei promotes the idea of putting people first, respecting one’s feelings and formulating solid human relationships.

The Japanese place a high priority on empathy. A Japanese businessperson is expected to be able to infer the wishes and needs of their guests without explicitly asking. There is a high level of hospitality, which is consistent with the Omoiyari culture. The Omoiyari culture strives to fulfill every need of the guest. This is achieved through superior listening skills, intuition and specific personal data. For example, in corporate dining, the entire meal may be decided upon by the senior male host.

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Author: Uzumaki Naruto

Expert tips before traveling Japan, including reviews of Japanese food and restaurants to help you make your trip as enjoyable and rewarding as possible.

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