Doing Business With Japan

Doing Business With Japan from a speech presented at Radford University

“Thank you very much for coming. I know you have better things to do. Please forgive me if my presentation doesn’t meet your expectations but to the extent possible, I’ll do my best.”

Wait. Let me start all over again.

“I am delighted to have you here. I am eager to tell you how successful I’ve been with the Japanese. By the time I finish, you’ll be so fired up that you’ll be on the next plane to Japan. You’ll sweep them with your Yankee spirit and come back with a pocketful of purchase orders!”

What a difference! My first greeting is self-effacing and apologetic while my second greeting is full of confidence and optimism. Well, you guessed it. I had a Japanese hat on for the first and an American hat for the second.

So the cultural divide is ever persistent, but the good news is that it’s getting narrower and shallower. It will never disappear completely because most of us tend to stay within our cultural boundaries. With my Japanese hat on, I wasn’t apologizing in the way you thought. I might have thought my presentation was a pretty good one. Why apologize? It’s cultural conditioning. I am expected to apologize.

On the other hand, with my American hat on, I might not have been as self confident as I sounded. I probably had my fingers crossed about my presentation. Being an American, I was supposed to be positive, dynamic and assertive — no matter what. It’s what my American culture expects. So, an American “me” and a Japanese “me” have a different speaking style.

While there are rebels among us, most of us are more comfortable with our own heritage, history and culture. We are uncomfortable and feel threatened in the face of different cultural expectations. This sense of comfort has a powerful effect on relationships between the Americans and the Japanese. Especially in business. For the Japanese, business is about people and relationships, win-win relationships built on mutual trust. Of course, business involves selling and buying and making money. But for the Japanese, good business follows mutual trust, not vice versa. Friendship comes before money talk. And mutual trust usually results from comfort levels they achieve with each other. Politically incorrect or not, let’s face it. It’s more difficult to feel comfortable with people who don’t look like us or talk like us.

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