Happy New Year!
We are back with the final part of the series treating the cultural differences between Eastern Europeans and other nations of the world, differences which must always be overcome in order to have the best possible outsourcer – outsourcee collaboration.
This time we will delve into the differences between Japan and Eastern Europeans. What is there to be aware of when it comes to this rather exotic business culture?
Japan is a key market for International Business, also the world’s third-largest economy after the US and China and second-largest computer and telecommunications market in the world. As such, being part of a global network nowadays, communication is key – and Japan excels at the speed and also the subtlety of it; Europeans often assume that Asians, in general, are quiet, reserved, or shy – but this is just a facile stereotype. Communicating messages without saying them directly is just a well-rooted part of the Japanese culture. In many Asian countries, Japan included, messages are often conveyed implicitly, requiring the listener to read between the lines. This is called high-context communication (subtle, metaphorical at times), as opposed to low-context (direct and transparent, as we’ve seen in the US and UK articles before). For the Japanese, good communication is subtle, layered and may depend on copious subtext, with the responsibility for good understanding being shared between the sender and the receiver.
In Japan, there is a yearly vote for the word of the year. At some point, the word was KY, which stands for kuuki yomenai. This translates as “one who cannot read the air”, a person sorely lacking the ability to read between the lines. In Japan, if you cannot “read the air”, you are not a good listener.
Closing the gap:
If you’re coming from a low-context culture, you may perceive a high-context communicator as secretive – lacking transparency. As explained above, it is clear that this is not the case with Japan. A Japanese contractor should be aware, though, that Eastern Europeans usually begin the meetings with small talk and leave the serious issues for the middle of the meeting. They will avoid expressing the issues directly, leaving the impression that they are hiding the truth when they are just trying to be polite, perhaps stating the obvious too much in doing so, at times. What can you do as an Eastern European so as to avoid being considered a kuuki yomenai? Learn. To. Read. The. Air.
The evaluation process implies feedback. Feedback (generally offering criticism) is usually expressed either as direct negative feedback or as indirect negative feedback, which, depending on the culture you find yourself in, may be viewed as constructive or disruptive. Where do the Japanese stand on the cultural scale? Straight in at the right end of the scale, where indirect negative feedback stands, which makes a lot of sense given their high-context cultural communication habits.
One way to begin gauging how a culture handles its feedback is by taking note of the type of words people use. Direct cultures, according to linguists, tend to favor upgraders – totally, absolutely, strongly – right before the negative feedback. Indirect cultures tend to soften the intro, using downgraders – kind of, sort of, a little. The Japanese, used to reading the air, take this up a notch.
When it comes to Eastern Europeans, the non-verbal elements are also important in evaluating feedback, hence, collaborations will sit on the same page. However, they also take conflicts more personally, which may make higher-context communication a double-edged blade. It would be best for a Japanese contractor to try to be explicit and low-context when it comes to given feedback. It’s important to build a good personal relationship in order to have a successful business partnership. Romanians tend to be more subtle when giving feedback and will expect the same, unlike Bulgarians and Ukrainians.
Closing the gap:
To create a positive environment that will motivate everyone to give their best, use the classic “sandwich method”, it was proven very useful when working with Eastern Europeans overall, especially Bulgarians, Ukrainians and Romanians; try to emphasize the positive aspects and express the negative ones as challenges which must be treated with utmost seriosity. This will create a positive environment that will motivate everyone to give their best.
Do you prefer an egalitarian or hierarchical management approach? In an egalitarian culture, the aura of authority is more likely to stem from acting like one of the team, whilst in a hierarchical culture, authority tends to come from setting yourself apart from the rest. Of course, there are many types of variation in-between. Japan, though, falls in the right extreme of the scale, the hierarchical one. They – and most Asian cultures – have a paternalistic, “father knows best” view of leadership that is puzzling to most Occidental cultures. The man at the top of the pyramid rarely sees his views or ideas challenged.
Eastern Europeans are also hierarchical. Europeans expect the general manager (or the hierarchical superior) to know their assignments and instruct them on how to improve their work, meaning there are higher expectations towards leaders to not only manage the business, but also to be involved in other operational areas, including sales, account management, and project management.
Closing the gap:
Japan has begun moving away from the paternalistic view of leadership in part due to the growing influence of the rest of the world. Eastern Europeans tend to seek the general manager’s approval, in any case, so the remnants of such thinking won’t rise collaboration issues. As a Japanese outsourcer, make sure you maintain direct communication with the business leaders, not only with the project manager. It is best to confirm any important decision with the highest hierarchical leader involved in the process.
The decision-making process is usually strongly tied to the type of leadership a business enforces. However, and this may seem like an unusual exception, the decision making process in Japan in consensual – but with am interesting and efficient twist!
Japanese managers employ a system of decision making called ringi. This is a management technique in which low-level managers discuss a new idea among themselves and come to a consensus before presenting it to the managers one level higher. The ringisho is the mid-management level of decision making, where a document of the initial idea already exists.
Eastern Europeans are, as in leadership, clearly hierarchical; their orientation is a branded top-down approach. There is a tendency to be risk-averse, they will take any required actions to reconfirm any important decision. This may lead to a certain degree of delays when it comes to conducting business.
Closing the gap:
Both consensual and top-down approaches will prove effective in the end, but when working in a multicultural team, a balance must be found. As a Japanese outsourcer, try to be pro-active and always try to communicate as clearly as possible your expectations about the decision process. Compromise your high-context for the sake of results, because Eastern Europeans are used to the top-down decision-making process. Don’t judge by delays. More often than not, it just means that more time is required from your Eastern European counterpart in order to eliminate any risks.
We’ll be approaching the issues of Trusting, Disagreeing, Scheduling and Persuading in business conducted between Japan and Eastern Europe. Make sure to revisit our blog next week for the final part of this series!