How do you keep good business relationships in Japan?


With the start of the New Year you might consider to add some resolutions as well on how to improve your business relationships with your Japanese counter partners. Nikkei Shimbun had asked 1000 Japanese (half female, half male) about their recommendations. From my perspecive some of the top 10 suggestions in Japan are different from the what I have encountered outside of Japan. While I find the importance of saying thank you globally as a top priority, I have to remind myself while being abroad that excusing myself too much can be a hinderance in global business. I realize that after living now 10 years in Japan, I have gotten too used to apologize for too many things: “I am sorry for have kept you waiting.” “I am sorry for getting back again to the main purpose of the discussion.” “I am sorry for not truly understanding your viewpoint…” Apologizing has become a part of my communication tools. When I grew up in Switzerland it took quite a lot of courage to apologize as I sensed that I had to overcome my internal pride. Then in the US adding sorry to my vocabulary was not such a big deal, but truly apologizing was still hard. Now in Japan saying sorry or apologizing myself has become my second nature.
Let’s have a look at the top 10 recommendations:

1. Say “thank you” and “I am sorry”
2. Show a happy face and smile while greeting others
3. Keep promises
4. Don’t tell lies
5. Don’t do to others what you don’t like yourself
6. Let others important information know as well
7. When dealing with others consider their stand point as well
8. While listening to others, look into other people’s eyes
9. Don’t talk bad about others when they are not present
10. Keep polite manners even with good friends

I am surprised that sharing eye contact has made the top 10 list. Personally I remind myself each time at the airport, when going abroad to increase my eye contact and not get confused when people actually are looking at me. Then on the way back home, I subdue my eye contact. Could it be that sharing more closeness has become more important in Japan?
On the other hand, what do you do at work when you have to deal with a person you cannot stand. According to the Nikkei review most people with 56% recommend to keep a friendly greeting as a good communication tool. Only 6% suggested to avoid any direct communication.

Positive, proactive greeting: 56%
Focus on business related topics: 26%
Try to keep an upbeat style of communication: 9%
Avoid communcation: 6%
Others: 3%

Many times I have been surprised about the importance that is laid on proper greeting in Japan. Keep it in mind when you meet your Japanese business partner next time. Oooops, I realize I have made a big fauxpas already. Especially now with the new year starting, let me apologize that I had not wished you earlier 明けましておめでとうございます。今年も宜しくおねがいします。(All the best for the start of this year and please take good care of me this year as well). I definitely need to brush up on my greeting behavior in Japan.

Wishing you all the best for 2012, no matter where you are!

Sibylle Ito (伊藤シビル)

3 thoughts on “How do you keep good business relationships in Japan?

  1. Good post, I’ve bookmarked ya on Digg under “How do you keep good business relationships in Japan? Where Mt. Fuji meets Matterhorn”. So hopefully our friends can give you a visit. Cheers!

  2. That’s completely true. You know about Japanese manner well.
    I say “I’m sorry that …. ” every day and every hours at my office.
    Perhaps when we say “I’m sorry that …. ” , we don’t think about it seriously.
    It’s similar to greetings.

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