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Imagine that you work for a multinational IT company and have been transferred to Japan for five years on a project. You want to adjust yourself culturally to the new environment so that you do not have cross-cultural problems.
Which aspects of the local culture would you wish to observe and understand in order to avoid problems of cross-cultural communication?
My name is Agnes. I am from Russia. I work in a multi-national company there as Sr. Manager in Marketing Department. For the completion of a project, I have been transferred to Japan for five years. Being two different countries, there are a lot of differences between the business cultures of them.
Business Culture of Russia
Russia, being one of the fastest growing economies of the world, is an inspiration for international business relations. People who are looking forward to break into a new business or attempting to grow their European presence enjoy their success by the development of new Russian clients and partners.
Russians value patience and appreciate time for discussion, consideration and digesting negotiations. Never try to impose a decision through high-pressure talk. It will only make you look impatient, rude and incapable of professional business communications.
Although it is acceptable for your Russian colleagues to be late to the business meetings, but, as a foreigner, you are expected to be punctual. Also, do not let your late Russian colleagues to apologize, as their behavior is considered to be a test of your patience level.
If your business meeting is based on a technical topic, be sure that you bring technical experts and a Russian interpreter along with you. Your Russian colleagues will expect a thorough presentation associated with your topic. Bringing experts establishes your credibility, foresight and general expertise.
Although most Russians speak English, be sure that you have a Russian translation of your business card on the other side, as this indicates your enthusiasm for doing business with your Russian colleagues.
Initial greetings may come across coolly. Do not expect friendly smiles.
A handshake is always required when greeting or leaving, regardless of the relationship. Remove your gloves before shaking hands.
Business dress is formal and conservative.
Wearing very light or very bright colors may make you appear lazy or unreliable to a Russian person.
MEN: They should wear business suits.
WOMEN: They should wear subdued colored business suits with skirts that cover the knees.
Russians are very demonstrative people, and public physical contact is common. Hugs, backslapping, kisses on the cheeks and other expansive gestures are common among friends or acquaintances.
Russians stand close while they are talking.
Making an “OK” sign in Russia is considered to be very rude gesture.
Russians appreciate punctuality. Business meetings generally begin on time in Russia.
Business cards, in Russia, are always exchanged at business meetings. The ceremony of presenting and receiving business cards is very important. Do not treat it lightly. Hand your business card in a way that the Russian side is readable to the recipient.
Representatives of the Russian company or the government body are usually seated on one side of the table at meetings with guests on the other side.
Russians find it difficult to admit their mistakes, especially in public. They also find it difficult to risk offending someone by making requests or assertions.
Personal relationships play a very important role in Russian business.
Business negotiations in Russia are very lengthy and they may test your patience. Plan to be in for a long duration.
No contract is considered final until a contract has been signed.
A small business gift is always appropriate, but its value should be according to the rank of the businessperson with whom you are meeting.
Do not give items that are easily available in Russia.
Bring a gift for the hostess of the gathering when visiting a Russian home. A small gift for a Russian child is considered appropriate.
The breakfast is not a part of Russian business culture.
The popularity of the business dining is increasing day-by-day. It is generally taken as the time for selling a deal.
The center seats are reserved for the most senior officials.
Begin eating only after somebody raises a toast. Toasting is a very important part of dining.
Russians use a continental style of holding the utensils, i.e., the fork is held in the left hand and the knife is held in the right hand while eating. If you are unsure of which utensil to use, start from the outside.
Do not refuse to the offers of food or drink. To decline such offers is considered to be rude.
If you are invited for the dinner, do not make other plans for later that evening. You are expected to spend some time in socializing after the meal.
After the toast has been raised, most Russians like to clink their glasses together. Do not do so if you are not drinking something alcoholic.
Do not get up until you are invited to leave the table. At formal dinners, the guest of honor is the first to get up from the table.
Do not begin eating until the host invites you to start.
In order to understand the differences between two countries, we need to know what is cross cultural communication.
Cross Cultural Communication
Cross cultural communication, which is also known as Inter-personal communication, is a field of study that looks upon how people from different cultural backgrounds communicate with each other, and how they endeavor to communicate across the cultures.
With the process of globalization increasing day-by-day, especially the increasing global trade, it is very obvious that different cultures will conflict and blend together. People from different cultures find it very hard to communicate not only due to the language barriers but are also affected by the cultural styles. Effective communication between people of different cultures is a very challenging task. The same words can mean different things to different people from different cultures, even when they talk in the same language.
Cross cultural communication is a combination of many other fields, like, anthropology, cultural studies, psychology and communication. Its basic responsibility is to produce some guidelines with which people from different cultures can communicate in a better way with each other.
Cross cultural communication is based upon the knowledge of certain factors which are as follows:
Cultural values, perception, manners and social structure of the other country
Understanding of how members of the group communicate, i.e., verbally, non-verbally, in person, in writing etc.
Business Culture of Japan
Japanese are highly structured and traditional people. Great importance is given to loyalty, politeness, personal responsibility and on everyone working together for the good of the larger group. Education, ambition, hard work, patience and determination are held in the highest regard. When you are doing business in Japan, make sure that you are not insulting any rule of Japanese culture, if you want your business deal to be successful.
Business meetings in Japan are conducted very formally and they are generally needed to be scheduled in advance.
Before everyone takes his/her seat, it is an essential on part of Japanese business to exchange their business cards. Business cards should be printed in a way such that one side is in Japanese and one side in the language of the card holder’s home country. It is best interest to offer business cards with both hands as this denotes greater respect.
A handshake is appropriate at the time of meeting. The Japanese handshake is always limp with little or no eye contact.
Some Japanese bow as well as shake hands. The bow is a greeting used to show respect and is appreciated by the Japanese. A slight bow is acceptable to show courtesy.
Dressing is modern and conservative. The Japanese dress well every time. Japanese culture says that one should dress smartly for parties, even if the invitation says “Casual” or “Come as you are”.
MEN: They should wear dark suits and ties for business.
WOMEN: They should wear formal dresses, suits and shoes with heals. Subtle colors and conservative styles are best for women in business.
Nodding is very important in Japanese culture. When Japanese is speaking, especially in English, nodding shows that you are listening and understanding the speaker.
Silence is a natural and expected form of non-verbal communication in Japanese culture. Do not feel a need to chatter.
Do not stand very close to a Japanese person. Avoid touching a Japanese.
Prolonged eye contact or staring is considered to be rude.
Do not show affection, such as hugging or shoulder slapping, in public. It is considered insulting by the Japanese.
Sit erect with both your feet on the floor. Never sit with crossed legs.
Be punctual for all business and social meetings.
If one has any degree of knowledge of Japanese culture, it is greatly appreciated.
Japanese exchange business cards even before they shake hands or bow. Make sure that your business card clearly states your position. This will determine who your negotiating counterpart shall be.
Keep in mind that the initial negotiations should begin with middle line managers. Do not attempt to go over to senior management.
It is considered acceptable to use a Japanese company interpreter in the first meeting. Once negotiations begin, you can hire your own interpreter.
Work is always undertaken in a group. The workgroup is strongly united without any competition; either all will succeed or all will fail. Decision-making is done by the whole group. Every person in the group must be consulted before making any decision. This is a very slow process.
It takes several meetings in the development of a contract. Whenever the time arrives, close the deal with a handshake. Leave the signing part of the written contract on the later meetings.
Always remember not to bring a lawyer. It is important to build business relations that are based on trust. The Japanese do not like complicated legal documents. Written contracts should cover essential points.
The value of the gift does not matter. Instead ritual of gift giving is more important.
Allow your Japanese counterpart to begin the gift giving ceremony. Present a gift in a modest fashion, like by saying, “This is just a small token,” or “This is an insignificant gift.”
It is very important to give and receive a gift properly. Give and receive a gift with both the hands along with a slight bow. The Japanese may refuse a gift once or twice before accepting it.
Do not give a gift to anyone unless you have one for everyone present in the meeting.
Correct wrapping of the gift is very important. Appearance counts more than the contents.
Always be prepared to give and receive a gift at the very first business meeting. Gifts are often given at the end of the first meeting. If you are not giving a proper gift there is a chance of ruining the business relationship.
Dining habits in a restaurant are crucial to business. A person is judged by his/her behavior during and after business hours. No business deal is completed without dinner in a restaurant.
Drinking is considered to be a group activity. Do not say “no” when you are being offered a drink.
An empty glass signifies that you are asking for another drink. Keep your glass at least half full if you do not want more drink. If a Japanese person initiates to pour more and you do not want it, put your hand over the glass, or fill it with water if required.
Similarly, an empty plate signals a desire for more food. Leave a little food on your plate after you have finished eating.
Toasting is a very important custom in Japan and many toasts are offered during the course of an evening. At dinner, wait for the toast before you start drinking. Respond to each toast with a toast.
Wait for the honored guest before you begin eating. If you are the honored guest, wait until all the food is kept on the table and everyone is ready before you start eating.
Business Cultural Differences between Russia and Japan
In Japan, a person is always greeted with a bow, which expresses high respect, gratitude, sometimes sympathy or an apology. It is an integral part of Japanese culture. But in Russia, a person is greeted with a mere handshake. Handshakes are firm, confident and brief with proper eye contact in Russian culture but in Japanese culture, handshakes are limp with little or no eye contact.
In Russia, tapping on the back is considered to be an expression of friendship or motivation but in Japanese business culture touching or back slapping is avoided.
Silence is usually avoided in Russian business or social meetings but in Japan it is an expected form of non-verbal communication.
In Russian work culture, it is necessary to maintain an eye contact with the person whom you are talking with or greeting but in Japanese business culture prolonged eye contact is considered as rude.
In Russia, gift is given according to the rank of the person to whom the gift is being given, but in Japan, the value of the gift doesn’t matter. Instead, gift giving is more important.
The problems that are discussed above are some of the cross-cultural problems that a person working in Russia would face after going to Japan and working over there.
Ways to overcome the cross-cultural problems
Though bowing while greeting is vital in Japan but as a Russian, one is not expected to bow. The thing that is more important is to show respect and gratitude, it can be either with a handshake or a bow.
It is important to use full name followed by the company’s name at the time of introduction. Always use proper titles when addressing someone.
Exchanging business cards is seen to represent the individual. So make sure to keep ample cards with you, with one side printed in Japanese. Always offer the card with both the hands with Japanese side up.
Communication is the main problem in cross cultural businesses. Always explain and clarify the meaning of what you are saying to maintain harmony and miscommunication.
Try to learn the culture and customs of the country in which you have to reside now. It is important to have a smooth and efficient life as you have to work in that country now, with the country men, so it is for your benefit.
The above discussion clearly explains that cross cultural differences will be faced by every person who changes his/her country either for work or some other purpose. In order to overcome the problems that arise due to cross cultural differences, it is very important for the person to understand the culture of the country he/she is shifting to. It is necessary for the person to adopt the new culture as soon as possible to avoid miscommunication with the local residents of that country.
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