Work in Japan Advice Board
So, you’ve been transferred overseas? Are you ready for your foray into global business? Do you think you will fit in at your new workplace?
If you’re lucky, your company will provide a cross-cultural trainer for you. Sadly, only large companies have budgets for this. If there is someone from Japan who is already working in the overseas branch you will be doing business in, you should make them your mentor. Invite them out for dinner or drinks and pick their brain about their experiences with cultural differences.
There are plenty of blogs and websites in English that talk about cultural differences in business, these should be your first recourse. I’m sure these exist in Japanese too. That said, pick up a good Japanese travel guide for both the country and destination city. Not only will there be information about the local culture, you can learn about the history and landmarks that the local people are proud of. Knowing a little history and architecture goes a long way.
Some countries are more religious than others. It’s well known that, Islamic countries are very religious and have many prohibitions regarding food, dress, and behavior. Scandinavian countries are well-known for being highly secular. Believe it or not, the countryside and southern United States are extremely religious, while religion plays a less important role in the large cities like NYC, LA, and Chicago. If you’re in a religious area, it might be helpful to learn a little about the local religion so you understand the holidays, customs, and taboos - if there are any.
National cultures and local cultures are not the same. There are certain common behaviors and attitudes that all Japanese people share. But if you spend any time in Kantō and Kansai, it’s obvious that these areas are culturally distinct. There’s even a big difference between Kyōto and Ōsaka which are right next to each other! The same is true of all countries. In order to fit in, it’s important to understand the national culture and the local culture.
Andy Molinsky, an Associate Professor of Organizational Behavior at Brandeis University's International Business School, recommends developing what he called “Global Dexterity.” Global dexterity is the ability to adapt behavior across cultures without losing who you are in the process. But how can you do this?
First, he recommends that you assess 6 aspects of the culture:
|Directness||How direct or indirect is the culture?|
|Enthusiasm||How much positive emotion are you expected to show?|
|Formality||How much deference & respect are you expected to show? how formal is the dress code and language?|
|Assertiveness||How strongly can you express your opinion?|
|Self-promotion||How much should you talk about your accomplishments?|
|Personal Disclosure||How much are you expected to reveal about yourself?|
Once you understand these aspects of the culture, you have to think about your own culture and identify the challenges you will have to overcome. For example, if your culture is very indirect, humble, and unassertive but you have to work in the United States, being direct, self-promoting,, and assertive will be uncomfortable.
Next, you have to learn to change the behaviors that are different. It may be impossible to completely change and some changes may come slowly, but over time you can build a new set of habits that help you feel more comfortable and confident in a foreign culture. By blending your own culture with the new culture, you will create a uniquely dextrous “global you.” Most importantly, if you have a mentor or have made friends with your local counterparts, ask for feedback. Find out if you’re blending in well.
Noel Bradshaw is the COO of Rosetta Stone Learning Center and started his career at management consulting firm Accenture. He came to Japan with the JET programme before joining Rosetta Stone Learning Center and has been with the company for 8 years.