Work in Japan Advice Board
While a U.S. state, Hawai’i is one of the most isolated groups of islands in the world, and consequently its own nation of sorts when it comes to many things, including business. The Hawaiian market is a unique one that requires a tailored business approach. Many businesses have tried and failed to set up successful partnerships there, as they never quite grasp what’s referred to as “local style.” With strong Japanese influences in its culture and customs, Hawai’i is a thriving market for businesses from Japan. Learning all you can before heading to Honolulu for business will pay off immensely. Some aspects of doing business in there will surprise you, especially if you are accustomed to doing business in the mainland U.S. The following guide focuses on these differences.
Points worth Understanding:
• It’s important to realize and respect that the Hawaiian way of doing business differs somewhat from the mainland U.S., and that the Hawaiian market is unique. Make sure to show your counterparts there that you view them as Hawaiian, not just American.
• In contrast to the American way of tending to not mix business and pleasure, Hawaiians believe that personal relationships matter in business. They need to know and trust you on a personal level before they can work with you. Having local connections will help with this. But either way, spending time getting to know your Hawaiian counterparts is essential.
• Caring for and respecting the native land of their islands is of great significance to all Hawaiians.
• The way you go about business will be noted. Hawai’i is a small country and you will likely encounter the same people over again as you establish business ties. Make a good first impression by following the rules and respecting them.
• All Hawaiians are familiar with the phrase “talk story,” which refers to the importance of spending time getting to know each other through sharing about life, family, and interests. Learning to “talk story” with your Hawaiian colleagues may make all the difference in the business side of your dealings.
• Hawaiians are often not as loud or aggressive in business meetings as mainland Americans are known to be. Hawaiians are good listeners, and very present in a discussion even if not heading straight for the point of debate.
• Asian culture and communication styles have been very influential in Hawai’i. You will notice a less direct communication style than what is typical for mainland Americans. Modesty is also greatly valued.
• Opinions that aren’t expressed during a meeting will often be expressed among staff afterward. Don’t interpret modest behavior as easily influenced.
• When it comes to closing a deal and signing on the dotted line, there is no pushiness or race to the finish. The “time is money” mentality that influences mainland U.S. business is not as prevalent in Hawai’i.
• Business attire appears more relaxed in Hawai’i. You will likely see a lot of “aloha shirts” in the office, but note these shirts will be tucked in to pressed trousers and worn with polished shoes. Professional is still professional, so don’t be deceived into thinking that local style equals sloppy.
More to Keep in Mind:
• Forging relationships with the community in Hawai’i will pay off. If possible, create opportunities to give back to the local community or environment, and be sincere in your efforts.
• Don’t assume that all the islands are the same. If you have business planned outside of Oahu, do extra homework to learn about the issues affecting that island and its community.
• When it comes to the legal aspects of your business dealings, it will help to have someone on your team who understands Hawaiian law well.
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