Japan and the New World Woman
By: Tracey WIlen
So you work for "New World Company" that needs you
to go to Tokyo to train new employees on the current technology. Given a day's
notice you scan the news websites for insights on what it will be like when you
arrive in Japan. In your mind you envision fine temples, tea ceremonies, and
Your body tenses are you read scan the news briefs. As of January 2000 there are still only three women who have worked their way through the ranks of Japanese government ministries, naked girls still adorn magazine covers read openly in public on the subways, and an increasing rise of happily unmarried woman are called "parasite singles".
So what's a New World business girl to do?
While the world is becoming more modern it is not necessarily becoming more western. More and more Americans are conducting global business as are other countries and adaptation of each other's cultures are occurring. As time passes many of the traditional customs and ideologies of countries such as Japan, will change. A lot of this change is being driven by the younger generation of employees who are less likely to adhere to traditional hierarchies and requirements.
Doing Business with Japan- A woman's perspective
Here are some tips on how you can be more effective conducting business with Japan both there and here.
Be prepared Any business transaction requires a fair amount of preparing. In International business this requirements intensifies because you have to understand you business, their business, their country and how they work in business. Frequently, Americans expect to manage situations on the fly without preparing in advance. This is less effective in International situations as it comes across as flippant, unknowledgeable, and not serious. Preparation includes knowing your product, preparing for the meeting (presentations, notes, documentation) , knowing your competition, your counterpart products and the culture.
Establish your credibility before you go When working with Japan it is important that your authority is understood, the sooner the better. Some ways can achieve this include: Having someone of a higher rank in your firm introduce you before you go and the nature of your business there. In addition send an agenda that includes the business objective and the list of attendees on both sides, rank for rank. Make sure you provide enough time for feedback form your counterparts. Have business cards made and plenty of them (the Japanese tend to meet in large groups) with your title clearly stated on them. Despite the creative tittles that your firm night use like" web genius" or "business guru" conform to commonly accepted tiles such as manager, director, etc.
Attire Don't make a fashion statement, save it for the girls night out when you get back home. Dress conservatively. Business attire should be conservative. For initial meetings it is important to project and serious conservative image. Your attire should be simple and basic such well made suits in black, gray, brown, or navy with simple jewelry (one earring on each ear is sufficient) and low heeled shoes (leather please). Wear hosiery, despite the current fashion trend of suntanned legs to set off your outfit it is not viewed as professional. You certainly don't want to be scrambling in a Japanese store to figure out how they package pantyhose and if they even carry your "American" size.
Seating Be attuned to the seating arrangements of the room. If you are the guest you will be seated on the farthest wall away from the door, as this is the place of honor. Notice who sits in the middle since this is where the primary speaker sits. The seat farthest from the door is where the top ranking person, who is usually silent, sits. Seat yourself in the middle if you are going to speak or chair the meeting and surround yourself with your support team. If you are hosting, invite your guests to be seated first. When you are in Japan you will be invited to sit in the same spot farthest from the door. Don't take a seat until invited to do so.
More on seating In Japan the highest-ranking individual enters the room first. It is important to understand that in the Japanese culture the female does not enter first. Of course let your guests enter before you. But you may want to enter the room before your team or considerably after to emphasize that you are needed for the meeting to begin. Sit in the center if you are chairing the meeting. Sit at the end farthest from the door if you are observing. In Japanese firms and the highest-ranking individual usually does not do most of the speaking. The managers/workers do. In the US we tend to have our highest ranking person in the group do all the talking. Some women have expressed that after all the proper introductions and seating arrangements are done they are still ignored in a meeting. If you find that you are being ignored, ask your teammates to defer to you. If you are still ignored ask your teammates to direct all questions to you. If all else fails have your team members leave the room so the attendees will now be forced to attend to you.
Hosting in the US
Groups The Japanese will always arrive together and negotiate in-groups. This is part of the consensus culture where no one person decides alone. Recognize this up front and do not focus on who you perceive to be the individual decision-maker. American culture is quite different and many people are empowered to decide on the spot, or there may be one designated key decision-maker in the room. Realize that many decisions will not be made on that day but rather later as the internal process is quite involved.
Agenda The agenda is key to setting the mood for the day. Send an agenda in advance. Unless you are very close and meet regularly the Japanese do not wish to be surprised by unexpected negotiation topics. They do prepare in advance and try to bring the appropriate technical and business personnel with them. If a new item is placed on the agenda it will most likely be ignored.
Opening remarks Open the meeting if it is at your home base either by thanking them for taking the time to visit with you or apologizing for taking them away from their busy day. If at their home base, they will do the introduction speech. Try to be the person who does the introduction and final speeches during meetings and dinners since in their culture it is usual for the highest-ranking person to do this.
Speech Speak slowly, clearly and use all the proper articles. Avoid using slang. Japanese do learn English in school but are not familiar with American slang and idioms and can easily misinterpret the message if you speak quickly. Use repetition to assure that your point is understood. Japanese are far better at understanding the written English language than the spoken language. Listen and do not cut off or complete sentences. Americans are known for doing it and it is annoying to the Japanese. They tend not to come directly to the point and do frame their points with a few sentences.
Documentation Know in advance how many people are coming and have a copy of everything for everyone, otherwise they will gather in groups to read the documents together. The key is group consensus so highlighting an individual to make a decision is not accepted or understood. Also, have good documentation and anticipate everything you need in advance. If you can have your documents translated into Japanese they will be very appreciative.
Silence Japanese typically use silence to either contemplate or express disagreement. Also I have noted that silence is used to withdraw from the meeting when fatigued. Be aware of this and don't try to fill in the gaps with talking. It is OK to be quiet and to sue it for the same reasons.
Breaks When you are hosting a meeting in the States, arrange for a coffee and tea breaks. Do not get the items yourself. Have a catering service or someone in your company serve the group. It is very important for you as a female not to be seen serving the guests, not only when dealing with the Japanese but in all business meetings. If there are documents to be copied and distributed, have another individual take the stack. If you can't arrange this then state that you will have it taken care of later.
Meeting Caucus It is appropriate during discussions to break off into separate rooms to form group consensus. They will suggest it when you are in Japan and you should also offer it as well if you sense it is needed. It is nice for tense moments. Murmuring is also popular with the Japanese. They will break off from the conversation and discuss points in Japanese among themselves. While initially it may seem odd you will find that it is helpful to break off into small group discussions.
Emotion Limit you use of emotion. Japanese speak slowly and in low tones. They rarely use emotion or facial expression in business discussions. It is best that you try not to raise your voice, use excessive hand or facial gestures, or show emotion particularly for women who tend to be stereotyped as expressive and over-emotional.
Entertaining At the end of the meeting thank them for coming. Invite them to join you and your team for dinner. This signifies immediately that you are the host for the dinner and helps to continue to enhance your role as a significant player. Try to find out what their dining preferences are before making reservations. Have a secretary call for you to find out preferences if possible. Do not call yourself unless you have a close relationship with someone high up. Japanese business and most high-ranking business individuals have their secretary's coordinate dinners. They do not usually ask you your preference until they are familiar with you or, they have a lower ranking person do it for them.
The dinner is an important key for good business as it helps in building the business relationship. Do not discuss business over dinner but rather spend the time to get to know your business partners, their country and culture. This will help build confidence in your team. Dinner is also a way to break tension. You may find that the next morning they are more relaxed and more apt to discuss tense issues more openly with you. Thank your guests. No doubt after a successful dinner the next days work with be much easier. Do not expect however that as a result of a dinner you will win a contract or a negotiation.
The restaurant Safe bets are fine French restaurants, steak and seafood restaurants. Keep in mind "fine". The Japanese are very interested in food and many times the table discussion will focus on the food and the display. Develop a list of a few quality restaurants and get to know their staff. Have reservations made in advance and try to secure a private room. Remember this is relationship building time. I do suggest opting for restaurants that do an excellent presentation of food. Arrive before your guests and review the room to be sure it is to your satisfaction. Order up wine in advance to have at the table. Make arrangements with the Maitre' D to hold your credit card and not to bring the bill to you at the table. Handle the bill on the side. Also find out the three top choices for the day and the chefs recommendation. Your guests will ask you to advise them. Do not be surprised if they all order the same meal usually the one you suggested, as this is part of the consensus mentality. Do not suggest sharing meals or offering them a taste. This is uncomfortable for them. Be sure that as in the meeting room, guests are seated on the far wall, as this is the wall of honor. They will all sit on the same side. Americans and Europeans tend to mix at the table to get familiar with each other. Japanese do not and seem to feel most comfortable seated together. If they initiate mixing of seats go with it.
Before you start dinner, make a welcome speech- a short commentary on the partnership aspects of your relationship and the importance of their presence. During dinner, prompt conversation by asking questions. The Japanese do not typically discuss their family. Instead, use the time to ask them questions about their culture, their cuisine, weather, their company background and growth, their schools and the sites of Japan. Other topics you can talk about would be areas of America, weather etc. As a female you may have unusual questions asked of you. There are ways to handle such questions politely. For example, some Japanese may be very confused that a female business woman would hold such a position so they will ask you if you are married, single, your age, if you have children. In their eyes they cannot understand how the roles can be changed. In our culture we are not as apt to ask such questions, especially of strangers. Develop polite responses for questions.
About the Author:
Tracey Wilen is Author at http://www.globalwomen.biz/