Relationships are important in every country, and even more so in a “high context” country such as Japan. There you will need to build relationships, take care of your existing relationships, understand why and with whom you build relationships, and avoid certain kind of relationships. You also need to understand the network of relationships in which your partners and competitors work under in Japan.
Working with the Japanese is an exercise in diplomacy and it can take many years to get it right. The Japanese are very impressionable and saying the wrong thing, even in innocently, can damage a relationship forever. It is a serious infringement of etiquette in Japan to criticize someone directly in public. Because Japanese people consider it traditionally wrong to disagree with other people in public.
Any businessman who wishes to build credible relationships in Japan should assimilate these instructions and start by building trust. Here we go:
1 Building trust
Building a relationship with your Japanese counterpart is essential. Despite the extremely strict vertical structure of business in Japan, with different companies interconnected at all levels, personal contact is essential and in order to achieve trust, you must socialize for a long time with your Japanese counterpart. A third party can be helpful in order to introduce you to new customers or suppliers.
2 Be patient
And yet again, patience brings better results in everything; therefore remember to always be patient. The Japanese value long-term relationships. And forming a relationship can be a difficult and hard resolution in Japan. The American-style contract is considered too detailed and legal when it comes to the language used. Such agreements for them suggest a lack of trust. For most Japanese, resorting to litigation means a total loss of harmony.
3 Saving “face”
It is very important for Japanese to save ‘face’ – especially, your counterpart’s and your own. It is considered as a key part of interpersonal communication. Take care not to criticize your Japanese contact in front of others.
4 Non-verbal communication
It is very interesting that many Japanese find it difficult to say a direct “No”, therefore it is very important to pay attention to their non-verbal, body language, and indirect signals.
5 Communications style
The style of communication in Japan is very implicit. Value is placed on empathy and shared understanding that doesn’t necessarily have to be spoken. The Japanese are considered to be listeners rather than talkers. They will, however, ask questions to clarify intention and expectations. They may go over the same point several times to make sure there is no misunderstanding.
To put in a nutshell, keep in mind that continuity, predictability and stability are important. You should be patient, keep face-to-face contact in order to build trust, and study non-verbal communication, because as you now know, Japanese people do not talk excessively since harmony is the key value in Japanese society.
If you want to find out more about building relationship across cultures read this article:
“Build Strong Work Relations Across Culture”