Client Relations in Japan

Article excerpt

Client Relations in Japan

Few cultures seem more foreign, more exotic, or more different from ours than Japan's, despite the country's high degree of industrialized development and modernization. Yet, American businesses are designing sales strategies for the Japanese market, trying to compete more effectively with the Japanese, and cooperating with the Japanese on joint ventures. Americans need to understand Japan better.

The information American businesses need today about Japan is more complex than what was needed a decade ago. Contacts with the Japanese are no longer limited to large multinational corporations. Professionals in more and more medium-size and small companies are doing business with the Japanese, and their companies are calling for intercultural training.

Cultural stereotypes derived from the "inscrutable Oriental" were never representative, and now they are proving to be business liabilities. Simple lists of cultural do's and don't's are hoplessly inadequate, too. Instead, sophisticated training programs must provide accurate and relevant information that is drawn from cultural anthropology, speech communication, sociolinguistics, and comparative organizational development.

Effective cross-cultural training requires the specialized skills of the training designer and instructional technologist. The tasks include selecting, analyzing, and drawing together subject matter; constructing the training paradigm; selecting the appropriate training methods; and designing the training according to principles that maximize the assimilation, retention, and use of learned information and skills.

An in-house training

program

Client Relations in Japan is a two-day, in-house training program at Underwriters Inc. It is designed for professional members of our staff who travel to Japan to work with clients on projects and for staff members who deal extensively with Japanese clients at our offices in the United States.

The program is designed around a series of mini-lectures that cover 50 topics, ranging from a historical perspective to the exchange of gifts. It is conducted by training department staff members and a guest speaker. The program includes a lecture, case studies, role plays, language practice, and a short test on cultural terminology.

The first third of the program concentrates on Japanese history, social norms, and contemporary cultural trends. The second third focuses on styles of written, verbal, and nonverbal communication. The final third examines corporate organization, management style, and business etiquette.

Those nominated to the program range from project managers with extensive experience in Japan to those preparing for their first contact with Japanese clients. Most trainees have had at least some contact with Japanese clients. In general terms, the training is intended to clarify differences in cultural norms and thereby increase trainee effectiveness in working with Japanese clients.

Specific learning objectives are established for each segment of the program. Trainees are given goals such as learning five nonverbal indications of unease, listing six ways Japanese indirectly express disagreement, and learning to pronounce accurately the vowels in Japanese names. Trainees must also master guidelines that help prevent cultural gaffes.

A frame of reference

The program provides a frame of reference for interpreting Japanese social and business behavior, and it gives trainees greater confidence to go forth into unfamiliar cultural territory. An understanding of both verbal and nonverbal means of communication is a valuable tool for conflict management, problem solving, and disagreement negotiations. The program also attempts to clarify trainees' previous experiences, organize their future perceptions, and facilitate their ongoing learning about Japan.

Topics are introduced by brief lectures and supported by training manual notes. …