Norm Goes to Japan

July 27th, 2012 | Posted by Lisa Avvocato in Tips & Tricks - (0 Comments)

Guess what? We finally closed the Japanese bank deal! It’s been a bumpy ride the past few months but on the bright side I’ve learned how to distinguish between about sixteen different types of hmmms.

Let me back up a little.

Prior to my first meeting with the bank’s executive team I sat down with my sales manager Tom to discuss our strategy. He explained that business was conducted differently in Eastern cultures than it was in Western cultures. In the first meeting, the initial focus is on establishing a relationship by understanding each other’s needs rather than simply discussing different products and services.

He also told me that when we exchanged business cards to make sure I took each business card with two hands and looked at it for a couple seconds before putting it away. Simply taking it and putting it away is considered disrespectful.

I felt pretty confident going into the first meeting but left feeling extremely frustrated because we barely got anything accomplished and I was sure they were not interested. But a few days later they set up an additional meeting so I guess they were.

Anyway, at one point during the second meeting, the CEO asked if our software could perform a specific function. I was getting ready to say no when Tom interjected saying that it would be very difficult but he would look into it. The rest of the meeting went this way and I was so confused. Every time a question was asked, the answer was either that is something we can accommodate or that will be very difficult.

What happened to a simple yes or no?

After the meeting, I asked Tom what was going on and he shed some light on the situation. Apparently, Japan is a very high context culture; answers are situational instead of explicit. Saving face in front of peers is extremely important and the word “no” is almost never used. It is better to use phrases like that will be difficult or we will have to think about it. Basically, how things were said was more important than what was said so I needed to pay more attention to how they were saying things.

It took a few more meetings but I finally was able to distinguish when my points were received favorably, when they were not interested (fyi “we’re considering it” means we’re not so move on), and when they simply needed a few moments for personal reflection. It was completely exhausting but we were finally able to tailor our offering to their needs and close the deal!

Collaboration, team work, relationships and communication; these are some of the latest buzzwords in business today. Companies are not only embracing the collaboration era but looking for ways to enhance communication and strengthen relationships between colleagues, business partners and even customers.

The result: video enabled organizations.

The benefits of video conferencing are undeniable and technological innovations have made video more accessible and easier to use than ever. As a result, organizations are adopting visual collaboration solutions at a rapid rate. However, while some organizations are creating a competitive advantage with stellar results; others see the equipment slowly collect dust.

So, what makes the difference between the two outcomes? How can an organization ensure a successful video implementation?

Simple, effectively manage the implementation and build a video culture.

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An integrated approach to adoption must be used as the impact of a new technology reaches beyond the equipment, affecting the people and the process within an organization. Failure to consider these inter-dependencies can result in significant resistance and even abandonment of the solution.

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Video conferencing technology crosses geographical boundaries and connects participants all over the world with the click of a button. Many collaboration sessions with peers are informal gatherings where different ideas and concepts are discussed. However, what is perceived as a normal hand gesture in one country may be completely offensive in another. Colleagues should be mindful of their hand gestures during international meetings and specifically avoid the gestures below that have multiple meanings.

A-Okay
In the US and UK this gestures is often used to signify things are “a-okay” or absolutely fine but in Japan it means money or coins. This can become quite confusing to your Japanese counterparts when they ask you a question and you respond with coins. In a few European countries, such as France, this gesture means ‘zero’ and by responding to an idea with it you are essentially saying their idea is useless which can be quite insulting. Far worse, in Brazil and Germany the term is downright vulgar. 

Thumbs Up
In Western cultures this is a sign of approval or a job well done or that you are good to go; however, in Latin America and the Middle East it is one of the biggest insults you can give. So when your Latin American colleague asks if you can hear him now, it’s best to respond verbally instead of simply giving the thumbs up sign. 

Stop
Meetings sometimes get out of control with multiple people talking at the same time. To get everyone’s attention the meeting leader may hold up his hand to signify stop; however, he will really be telling his Greek counterparts to go see the devil.   

V-Sign
Many people use this sign to refer to the number two but in the UK or Australia it is the equivalent of telling someone where to go. Be wary of using hand gestures to signify numbers to avoid offending colleagues and keep meetings on track. 

There are a lot of different cultures in the world and each has their own way of expressing feelings through body language. Gestures that may seem harmless can be deeply offensive to another culture so before meeting with international clients or colleagues it may behoove you to brush up on their culture to avoid any faux pas.